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Early deficit, defending state champ too much for Nature Coast to handle

OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times  Nature Coast Technical pitcher J.P. Gates (10) pitches against Bolles during the 2018 FHSAA Baseball State Championships at the CenturyLink Sports Complex at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Florida on Thursday, May 31, 2018. Bolles defeated Nature Coast Technical 4 to 1.
OCTAVIO JONES | Times Nature Coast Technical pitcher J.P. Gates (10) pitches against Bolles during the 2018 FHSAA Baseball State Championships at the CenturyLink Sports Complex at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Florida on Thursday, May 31, 2018. Bolles defeated Nature Coast Technical 4 to 1.
Published May 31, 2018

FORT MYERS — Nature Coast learned a lesson in its first trip to the Class 5A state baseball tournament: Be ready to play from the very first pitch.

Jacksonville Bolles (24-5), winner of seven state titles including the past two straight, jumped on the Sharks for four runs in the first three innings and went on to win 4-1 Thursday morning in the state semifinals at Hammond Stadium.

"They wanted to win a lot more early on than we did," Nature Coast senior rightfielder Zach Funkhouser said. "I think it showed. If we ever had an opportunity again like this, I think we would be ready from the beginning."

Funkhouser actually led off the game with a single off Bolles starter Hunter Barco. But a double play ended that threat. Funkhouser had the Sharks' only two hits off Barco.

The Bulldogs scored two runs in the bottom of the first against J.P. Gates. Max Ferguson led off with a double, and one out later Barco tripled him home. Barco scored on a Paul Kuehn fly out to rightfield.

A run in the second made it 3-0, but the Sharks (26-5) were able to cut it to 3-1 in the top of the third. Kevin Funkhouser was hit by a pitch with one out. With two outs, Zach Funkhouser singled to score his brother from second base and make it 3-1.

"That was nice," Zach Funkhouser said. "I just wish we were able to get a few more."

Bolles got a run back in the third. Ferguson doubled to start the inning and stole third base with one out. A flyball to center scored Ferguson.

That was it for the scoring.

Nature Coast only put three runners on base in the final four innings and couldn't get a runner to second. Gates, who allowed five hits, struck out four and walked six, pitched out of jams in the fifth and sixth innings to keep Bolles off the board.

"They had a good lineup from one to nine," said Gates, a Miami commit and MLB draft prospect. "There wasn't anybody in that lineup that I felt I could just blow it by them."

Barco, a junior who is committed to Virginia, struck out four in seven innings to earn the win. Nature Coast was able to put the ball in play most of the game, but rarely did it result in a hit.

"Some of the good balls we hit were right at them," Nature Coast coach Frank Vitale said. "Some of the good balls they hit found the openings. That's baseball. We played well, they played a little better."

Despite the loss, Nature Coast did make history by just being in the state tournament.

"We're not a baseball school," Gates said. "We put baseball on the map here the last few years. For all these people to come down and watch us play is flabbergasting. Our school is going to put a banner up in our gym. They've never done that before. It's really special."

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