The Gaither High baseball team stopped Bloomingdale's comeback 90 feet short, as Cowboy right-hander Ryan Prep struck out Greg Maslar with the tying run on third, ensuring the 5-4 victory.
Entering the seventh, Prep had retired 11 of the last 12 batters and Gaither held a 5-3 lead. Things appeared well in hand.
But maybe not.
"Late innings are always a high-pressure time for us," Gaither coach Frank Permuy said. "Our pitching has been really good, but we've been trying to focus on our defense."
A district champion last year, Gaither (7-3) lost 11 seniors and replaced them with a talented, but green group of youngsters. Up the middle, for instance, the Cowboys start two sophomores _ Donnie Kirschner at second and Michael Macaluso at shortstop. This year was supposed to be one of rebuilding and retooling, but the Cowboys' strong performance so far has erased those thoughts and Gaither is thinking like a contender again.
Friday night, though, some of the inexperience surfaced.
To start the seventh, Bloomingdale's Jason Van Huele reached first on a grounder to Macaluso that he couldn't handle. It was his third error of the night and it started the Bulls' last-chance rally.
Prep retired the next batter, which brought No.
9 batter Justin Hancock to the plate. In his first two appearances, Hancock did not hit the ball out of the infield. Representing the tying run, though, he delivered, doubling to center past a diving Jared Crandon, setting up runners at second and third with one out.
A sacrifice fly scored Van Huele and moved Hancock to third, but Maslar struck out looking.
The win marked the third complete game of the season for the Cowboys' workhorse, Prep, and upped his record to 3-2. He didn't do it on his own, though.
Gaither walked, followed with a Kyle Howell double, then Shevin Craine's second home run of the year gave the Cowboys a 3-0 lead in the second inning. Gaither added two more in the third to go up by five.
Bloomingdale (8-3) struck back in the bottom half of the third. Starting pitcher Steve Albro got some revenge for Craine's homer by knocking a low, first-pitch curveball over the left-field fence for a three-run shot.
But that was when Prep beared down.
He disposed of the next nine hitters and did not allow another hit until Hancock's one-out double in the seventh.
"I think he got a little more focused after the home run," said Permuy of his senior starter. "We had a lead and I think he might have been too comfortable."
On the night, Prep struck out five, walked just two and gave up only five hits. He also lowered his ERA to 2.26. His counterpart, Albro, who fell to 1-1, pitched 5 innings, allowed 5 runs on 5 hits, struck out 4 and walked 4.
Like Craine, Albro's home run was his second of the year.
Jefferson shortstop Michael Suarez committed to play next season for the University of Tampa. Suarez, who plans to sign with the Spartans with the signing period begins in April, is hitting .444 with eight doubles, a homer and 12 RBI. He has been on various all-tournament teams, including the past two seasons at the prestigious Tony Saladino tournament.