NEW PORT RICHEY — Mitchell and East Lake may be in different counties, but the schools are not that far apart. Still, they haven’t played against each other in baseball since 2016. This season they are in the same district, and if Friday night’s game is any indication, it’s going to be a competitive race to see who earns the top seed.
Mitchell won the first matchup 3-1 in a game that had good pitching, suspect defense and a few unusual plays. The Mustangs fell behind by a run but scored three unanswered runs to remain undefeated at 6-0. The teams will play again April 16 and will likely meet in the district tournament.
Things started off about as well as they could for East Lake (5-2). Mitchell starter Mason Miller walked the first two batters he faced and gave up a single to Ryan Slater to load the bases. Then he struck out the next three batters to keep East Lake off the scoreboard.
“My mindset through the whole inning was to let them hit it,” Miller said. “Let my team do the rest. In the first inning I always have those jitters. I get a little nervous, but once I settle in I’m fine and I let my teammates do the rest.”
It may have only been the first inning, but East Lake coach Zack Roper had a feeling that not scoring in the first would haunt his team the rest of the game.
“When you play a good team like this and you’ve got them on the ropes you have to capitalize,” Roper said. “You’ve got to put up a crooked number. You really have to take the momentum.”
The Eagles did get the game’s first run. In the third, Josh Pigozzo walked with one out. Slater then singled through shortstop on a hit and run. With Pigozzo already running, he was able to score on the single when the throw home sailed wide.
But that lead didn’t last long. Mitchell got the run back when an infield fly ball was dropped with one out. Then with two outs, a Kyle Murphy deep fly to center was also dropped, which allowed Jackson Miller to score.
“We really haven’t played good defense so far this season,” Roper said.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Mustangs’ Zach Crawford scored on a balk and a suicide squeeze by Keaton Howard scored Jackson Miller. That was all reliever Adam Bingham needed. Bingham entered in the fifth and only gave up one hit. He said he was extra motivated.
“I heard the fans and the parents talking some smack to me and that gave me some motivation to throw the ball harder and get everyone out,” Bingham said. “I think on that last pitch, that’s as hard as I can throw a ball. I don’t think I’ve ever thrown a ball as hard as that.”
Bingham also said he can’t wait to face the Eagles again.
”We’ll beat them 10-0 instead of 3-1," he said.