TAMPA — Berkeley Prep was forced to fight back from the very start. Fort Myers Bishop Verot took a three-run lead in the first inning of Friday's Class 4A region final, and the Bucs — who staged a seventh-inning comeback Tuesday against Tampa Catholic to advance — were on their heels early.
But it was a place coach Justin Houston didn't mind being. It was the strategy all along.
"Our game plan was just to get these guys in a fight. And when we got them there, we had them on the ropes for a little bit," Houston said. "But again, they stepped up, they've been here before, and they did a good job rebounding."
Berkeley Prep chipped away at the Vikings' lead as the game progressed, but timely hitting and a strong outing from senior right-hander Jeff Passantino proved too much for the Bucs to handle, and they lost 5-3.
Bishop Verot (24-5) coach David Nelson should have had a good feeling about his team's chances Friday the moment senior outfielder Evan Dougherty stepped up and hit a leadoff single in the first inning.
"He's been our leader," Bishop Verot coach David Nelson said about Dougherty, who finished 2-for-3 with three stolen bases and an RBI. "When he goes, we go."
The coach's adage came true, as Bishop Verot's win put the Vikings in the state semifinals a the fourth straight season. Aware of their opponent's track record, the Bucs knew they'd have their work cut out for them.
"We saw (Passantino) two years ago. He did everything we expected him to do," Houston said. "To his credit, he was a little bit better than us tonight."
Passantino gave up just five hits, walking one and striking out eight in seven innings pitched. Casey Keller pitched the first 4 2/3 innings for the Bucs (16-5), while Julian Bosnic came in in relief.
Bishop Verot scored its three runs in the first inning on an RBI single, a Berkeley Prep throwing error and a Dougherty sac fly. The Bucs came back, scoring a run in the second on a Keller groundout and another in the fourth on a Nick Kavouklis RBI single.
It wasn't enough, though, and as Passantino kept throwing, the strikeouts began piling up. The Vikings plated insurance runs in the fifth on a wild pitch and another in the seventh on a Passantino RBI single.
Houston admitted his team — which began the season 1-4 and once struggled through a three-game losing streak — had its trials this season. But, he said, their postseason run wasn't one of them.
"It was a really fun season," he said, "especially at the end."
Class 3A: At first, Tampa Prep coach A.J. Hendrix thought everything was going to go great. Tampa Prep was up early against region final opponent Orangewood Christian, scoring a run in the top of the first inning after Luis Medina hit into a double play with no outs and the bases loaded.
But all it took was one inning to ruin the Terrapins' night. Tampa Prep gave up six runs in the third frame and, unable to produce much more offense, lost 7-1.
Tampa Prep — which had just two hits, both from St. Pete College signee Nick DeTringo — walked three batters, hit two and gave up two base hits in the third inning, and Orangewood Christian (24-7) scored six runs in the frame.
"Outside of that one inning — we kind of fell apart there defensively on the mound — we pretty much shut them down," Hendrix said.
The region final was the third straight for the Terrapins (19-11), who played in the state semifinals in 2012.
Class 7A: Just two weeks after being no-hit by Wiregrass Ranch in its district championship, Sickles struggled offensively once again. The Gryphons mustered just four hits in a 3-0 region final loss to Kissimmee Osceola (25-6).
"The pitcher that they had had a very good change-up and kept us off balance all night," Sickles (19-8) coach Robert Pagano said of junior right-hander Jake Grenus. "He kept us from doing any damage on the offense."
Despite the loss, Pagano was positive about his defense's performance, and the bright future his Gryphons — who will lose just three starters — have.
"It's a hard thing to do. You don't do it very often," he said of the postseason run. "Maybe next year we can do it again.
Class 8A: Bloomingdale (20-9) scored in the fifth and sixth innings to earn a 2-1 come-from-behind victory against host Winter Park (24-6).
The win comes just three days after the Bulls, who fell to Plant three times this season, beat the Panthers 5-3 in extra innings to advance to Friday's region final. Bloomingdale's postseason run will continue May 16 against Lake Worth Park Vista in the state semifinals at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers.
Information from the Orlando Sentinel was used in this report.