TARPON SPRINGS — East Lake did not play its best game of the season Tuesday against North Port in the semifinals of the Class 8A, District 8 tournament. Or its second best. Or even third best.
But the effort was more than enough to beat the No. 4 seed Bobcats 8-3 and set up a showdown with second seed Sarasota Riverview in Thursday’s district final.
The Eagles (22-3) got only three hits in six innings against North Port but were aided by the Bobcats’ five errors, three walks and two hit batters. Also, North Port (10-12) was playing without four starters for disciplinary reasons.
East Lake pitcher Cameron Churchill gave up six hits, including two home runs, in six innings. Steven Plaskett pitched the seventh inning to close out the game.
“We’re okay,” East Lake coach Dan Genna said. “It was just pitch to contact and see what happens. I don’t care if (Churchill) gives up 10 home runs. We’re going to outslug them today.”
Well, maybe not outslug, but certainly outscore.
The tone was set in the first inning when East Lake scored three runs on one hit. Troy Strominger led off by reaching on an infield error.
One out later, Grant Hodges was hit by a pitch. Keegan Maronpot then doubled to left to drive in two runs. An attempt to pick off Maronpot at third on the next pitch sailed into leftfield to make it 3-0.
“That was huge,” Eagles second baseman Doug Rovello said. “You do that, and they are playing catch-up the whole game.
“In all our big wins we’ve jumped out early. We’ve been pretty good at holding on this season.”
It was 7-0 after three innings. Rovello got a one-out single and Hodges followed with a walk. A pickoff attempt at second went into centerfield, allowing Rovello to score. Hodges then scored with two out on another errant pickoff throw to third.
Ian Lisle then singled with the bases loaded to drive in two more runs. After Lisle’s single in the third, East Lake did not get another hit.
North Port made things interesting in the fourth when Michael Brown hit a two-run homer to make it 7-2. East Lake got one back in the bottom of the fifth when Tyler Neuhaus drove in a run thanks to another infield error by North Port.
In the sixth, Churchill gave up his second home run, this one to Brian McAlpine with nobody on base.
“Cameron threw well and we had those two big innings,” Rovello said. “That’s what it’s all about, just win and then think about the next game.”
The district final against Riverview is the rubber match of the three-game series. The Eagles are looking for their third straight district title.
Sarasota Riverview ace Sean Labsan shut out Palm Harbor University 7-0 to advance to the district final. No. 2 Riverview (19-6) scored four runs in the fourth inning to blow open the game. No. 3 PHU, which lost both regular-season games to the Rams, ends its season 9-12.
2A-9: Canterbury nearly squanders early lead
ST. PETERSBURG — The ideal scenario for Canterbury coach Dave Smith in Tuesday’s Class 2A, District 9 semifinals was to jump to a big enough lead against Lakeside Christian that the game would end early and his pitching staff could rest.
Smith got what he wanted — for 4½ innings.
The Crusaders were up 10-1 in the fifth and had runners in scoring position to end the game early via the mercy rule. But they couldn’t get that run, allowed the Lions to score a few of their own and ended up stretching the game out to a full seven innings in an 11-5 victory.
“We started off well but we could have played better,” Smith said. “I think the guys were looking a little too much ahead to the final.”
Looming in Thursday’s championship is a matchup against top seed Sarasota Christian, which is undefeated. Last year, Canterbury knocked off the Blazers in the region semifinals and advanced to the state semifinals.
“That’s a big one for us, and we might have been overlooking the one we played (tonight),” Smith said.
The Crusaders (9-14) started strong, jumping out to a 9-1 lead after two innings. David Rodica had a double and triple for Canterbury in his first two at-bats.
Trailing 10-1 through five innings, Lakeside made a brief comeback, scoring three runs in the sixth inning and one in the seventh. Christian Michener went 3-for-3 and Logan Bates had a triple for the Lions.
The Crusaders added a run in the sixth and shut down Lakeside in the top of the seventh for the win.
“We had some good approaches at the plate and swung the bats well through the first few innings,” Smith said. “But we let a few things get away from us late in the game that we can’t afford to do in the next one.”
Staff writer Bob Putnam contributed to this report.