1. Sports
  2. /
  3. HomeTeam

Region baseball: Leto doesn’t sweat the small stuff

Close games? Deficit? No problem. Nothing fazes the Falcons, who are heading to state after rallying to beat Viera 3-2.
Published May 23

TAMPA ― For the first four innings of Leto’s Class 7A region final against Viera, it seemed as if the state semifinal berth was the Hawks’ to lose.

The visiting team’s bats were swinging from the very start, and Viera, which took a two-run lead in the third inning, had 14 base runners in the game.

But Leto, a young team that’s been riddled with injuries all season, didn’t seem to sweat it. And there’s a good reason for that, coach JJ Pizzio said.

“I know this might sound bad, but when you’re really not that good, things like that don’t bother you,” he said. “You just keep playing baseball. You don’t get up, you don’t get down. You just keep on grinding and grinding.”

And eventually, the perseverance paid off.

Leto scored a run in the fifth frame, before Brayan Cruz drove home the tying run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly. But as Viera attempted to make a play at home, the third baseman overthrew the catcher, allowing Leto’s game-winning run to score on the error. Closer Franklyn Hernandez struck out four Hawks in the final 1 ⅔ innings to deliver the Falcons’ 3-2 come-from-behind victory and their second straight state semifinal appearance.

While Viera had nine hits on the night, Leto only had one — a second-inning single from Bryan Perez — through the first four frames. Leto starter Christian Suarez gave up three singles in the third, and Viera came out of that inning with a 2-0 lead.

But while the Leto defense bent a little bit, it didn’t break. After Leto gave up the runs, Suarez and the defense got out of a bases-loaded jam to end the inning without any more damage done. Leto (23-6) would strand 12 batters before the night was over.

Perhaps Viera (21-9) got a little bit comfortable with their two-run lead. That, Pizzio said, played right into the Falcons’ strategy.

In the fifth, Leto seemed to have figured out Viera starter Eric Allen. Cruz doubled, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and was driven in on a hard-hit infield single from Mike Comacho to close the gap. That set up Cruz’s sixth-inning, game-tying sac fly and the go-ahead run scored on the Viera error.

“The way that we hit, we try to work the pitcher into getting comfortable with certain pitches. If we hit a groundball off a guy, we know by the second or third time he throws that pitch, we’re going to hit ‘em,” said Pizzio. “When they get comfortable, we get tougher.”

Because of the jams Leto was getting itself into, Suarez’s pitch count climbed, and Pizzio replaced him in the sixth with Hernandez. The left-hander did his job, giving up a double to the first Hawk he faced, but retiring the next five batters in order.

It wasn’t a perfectly executed game, Suarez admitted, but for Leto, it was perfectly in character.

“Our last few games have been like this. They’ve come down to the wire,” Suarez said. “It’s just a testament to who we are. We’re Hispanic baseball players. We don’t give up.”

State baseball

At Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers

Class 8A: Strawberry Crest vs. TBD, 4 p.m. May 29

Class 8A: Plant City vs. McArthur, 7 p.m. May 29

Class 7A: Doral Academy vs. Leto, 7 p.m. May 31

Class 6A: Jesuit vs. Miami Springs, 1 p.m. May 31

Class 4A: Calvary Christian vs. Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian, 7 p.m. May 24


  1. Steinbrenner coach Andres Perez, left, cheers as his team runs out of the tunnel before the start of the game against Hillsborough on Friday night. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Newsome and Steinbrenner also impress in Week 5, while unbeaten Lakewood offers a little extra motivation to its O-line.
  2. Palm Harbor University sweeps the boys and girls team titles at the Pinellas County Athletic Conference swim meet on Saturday at the Long Center. BOB PUTNAM  |  Times
    The Hurricane girls were expected to cruise; the road to a conference title for the boys would be tougher. Both excelled.
  3. Academy at the Lakes' McKenna Smith, pictured here at state last season, appears to be a lock for another deep postseason run. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    McKenna Smith, Caleb Kravitz appear to have a leg up on the competition as the postseason gets closer.
  4. Northeast High senior Jacquez Welch, right, is part of a pregame ceremony Friday night presenting the jersey of former player Marquis Scott to his family. Scott, 20, recently was shot and killed while riding his bike. Welch later collapsed during Friday's game and was taken to a hospital where he is currently on life support. (Photo by Hans Hauss) HANS HAUSS  |  Special to the Times
    The senior, who has severe bleeding on the brain from a pre-existing condition, is on life support.
  5. High school football teams around Tampa Bay were in action Friday night. Times
    The Spartans jump out to a quick lead against their Bradenton nemesis and make it stick.
  6. Sunlake extends its lead to 9-4 over rival Land O' Lakes in the Butter Bowl. RILEY AUMAN  |  Special to the Times
    The Seahawks hope this is the start of another extended streak in the Butter Bowl.
  7. High school football teams around Tampa Bay were in action Friday night. Times
    Rocco Becht and Keith Walker make quite the dynamic duo for the Bulls.
  8. Yesterday• HomeTeam
    High school football teams around Tampa Bay were in action Friday night. Times
    The Wolves are paced by a pair of 100-yard rushers in Landon White and Jason Albritton.
  9. High school football teams around Tampa Bay were in action Friday night. Times
    The Bulls defense brings the heat in forcing four turnovers.
  10. High school football teams around Tampa Bay were in action Friday night. Times
    The Rebels’ Dale Caparaso gets the shutout against the team he once coached.