River Ridge star T. J. Tucker admitted he was nervous at the start of the game.
After all, this was his first start on the mound after missing 10 days, and there were more than 20 major-league scouts in attendance.
Nervousness never worked so sweet.
Mixing his 90-mph fastball with a timely curve, Tucker mesmerized Land O'Lakes, pitched a masterful complete-game shutout, allowed one-hit and struck out 15 to lead the Royal Knights to a 7-0 Sunshine Athletic Conference and district win Tuesday night.
"I was kind of nervous at first because of all those guys back there," Tucker said. "But I was just trying to hit my spots and stay ahead in the count. I think I will do better next time."
"He was superb," River Ridge coach Jack Homko said. "We're as good as any team when we have T. J. on the mound."
The only blemishes on Tucker's nearly perfect night were a one-out single to Erik Shafer in the second inning, a pitch that hit Matt McCleary and two walks.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder twice struck out the side, and struck out two in four other innings.
But Tucker didn't do it alone. The Knights hammered nine hits, including a solo homer from Brian Ferdinand, and a bases-loaded walk by Robert Borgess in the third inning. Ferdinand was 2-for-2, including a homer, a double and two RBI.
Land O'Lakes starter Brad Baisley came out on the losing end despite pitching well and matching Tucker strike for strike during the early part of the game. Baisley pitched six innings, gave up six runs and struck out seven in the loss.
"It was just not me out there it was my teammates, too," Tucker said of the Knights' efforts. "I have to thank them for scoring the runs."
"They need to take some of the credit," Homko said. "We got some great effort at the plate against a pretty good pitcher."
Hernando gets leg up
BROOKSVILLE _ The game hadn't even started yet and it seemed Central coach Gary Buel knew what was coming. In fact, he even told Hernando coach Tim Sims the team that made the least amount of mistakes was going to earn the win.
Things were looking good for Buel's Bears in the second inning when the Leopards made three errors, but Central only managed one run before Hernando pitcher Matt Morgan got Larry Varner to ground out to second to end the inning.
Unfortunately for Central (8-5), it re-paid the favor in the bottom of the sixth inning, committing two errors which led to two runs, including the game-winner as the Leopards went on to win 5-2.
The win not only gives the Leopards a 2-0 season series lead, but puts them in good position to challenge for the top seed in the district.
"This is one we had to have," Sims said. "Whoever loses this one has two (district) losses. You've got to win the games in your backyard against your city rival."
Hernando (10-3) was boosted by Morgan on the mound, striking out 10 and walking three while allowing just four hits. On the offensive end it was Patrick Henning going 3-for-3 with two doubles and two RBI.
_ MIKE READLING
Crystal River wins
LECANTO _ Crystal River baseball coach Jere DeFoor probably figures it's about time. About time his team backed up pitcher Rob Pochis with some credible defense. About time the other guys made the mistakes. And, darn it, about time his Pirates posted a win.
Oh well, it appears there is a time and place for everything. For DeFoor, everything fell into place Tuesday at Lecanto in a 7-1 win over the Panthers (5-7).
The Pirates defense finally backed up their ace pitcher, committing only one error behind Pochis' three-hit, eight-strikeout performance. And they even got some help from the other guys as the Panthers obliged DeFoor and his Pirates with six errors that led to four unearned runs.
Bruce Bellamy set the table well from the leadoff spot, scoring twice and stealing two bases after reaching on an error and a single. But the real damage was done in the sixth inning when three Lecanto errors helped the Pirates (3-7) expand a 2-1 lead into a very comfortable 6-1 cushion.
Bellamy gave Crystal River a 1-0 lead in the first, reaching on an error then stealing second and eventually scoring on a Chris Cole sacrifice fly. Lecanto tied it in the fourth when Scott Hartman doubled home Steve Fleck, but Bellamy put the Pirates back out in front, again stealing second after reaching on a single, then scoring on Jeff Conklin's base hit.
_ CAREY FREEMAN
Pasco rallies past Rams
NEW PORT RICHEY _ In a classic come-from-behind scenario, Pasco pounded a pair of two-run homers late in the game to overtake Ridgewood 4-3.
However, the Pirates' (10-3) luck wasn't with them in the first half of the game.
In the second inning with bases loaded and no outs the Pirates failed to get the ball out of the infield three straight times and caused two home-plate forceouts.
While Pasco recovered from that sting, Ridgewood (6-4) took an early 3-0 by the fourth inning.
But the game shifted after Pasco's Raul Cruz smacked a two-run homer over the centerfield wall.
The go-ahead 2-run blast in the seventh was very similar as Pasco's Daniel Boyd slammed one to right-center for the game-winner.
_ HENRY UHLENBRAUCK