Land O’ Lakes advances as 4A-8 runner-up
By Kyle LoJacono
Land O’ Lakes shortstop Trae Urban hit the first pitch he saw over the left field wall of Sunlake’s field, signaling what was to come in the Class 4A-District 8 championship game April 29.
The Gators (20-8) came up on the short side of an 8-5 slugfest, losing to the top-seeded Hernando Leopards. However, by making the district finals they qualified for the program’s first regional tournament since 2008.
“We’re disappointed in the outcome, but not at all in our effort,” said Gators coach Calvin Baisley. “We competed and came back. They could have quit when they were down 5-1, but if you ask me if I’d rather win tonight or Tuesday; I’d rather win Tuesday. I’d really rather win them both, but Tuesday is win or go home.”
Hernando (23-5) fought back to score five runs in the bottom of the second, including a two-run homer by Ian Townsend hit just left of straightaway centerfield 375 feet away.
The Gators answered with three in the fourth and another in the sixth to tie the score at 5-5. Land O’ Lakes had a chance to take the lead in the sixth when Trey McNickle hit a two-out RBI single into centerfield with the bases loaded. Townsend scooped the rolling ball and threw a strike to nail Gino Pepenella at the plate to keep the game tied.
“It was one of the best throws I’ve had,” Townsend said. “Glad it happened when it did.”
Hernando got a break in the bottom of the sixth when Dylan Harris bobbled the ball at second with one out, putting Leopards on first and second. McNickle walked Townsend to load the bases and Brett Maggard hit a two-RBI single. Christian Arroyo added another run on a sacrifice fly.
Both teams’ lineups saw a lot of pitches and drew a combined 17 walks in the contest. Each coach used three pitchers, with neither starter going four innings.
Gators starter Brad Hencke (4-0) went the first two frames, facing 12 batters and throwing 48 pitches.
“High school baseball, it’s kind of weird in tournament play because you only have so many pitchers,” Baisley said. “We were fortunate to have one of our better pitchers starting, but he wasn’t going to go much further than he did because he already pitched this week and is going again in regionals. So we’re in a district finals and Hernando isn’t throwing their top guy and our guy is limited to 50 pitches.”
Urban went 2-3 at the plate with a walk, a double and the leadoff home run, the only two extra base hits for the Gators on the night.
The Gators left 10 batters on base, including five in scoring position. Baisley said that needs to be corrected if the squad is to advance in regionals, but he and his players are just happy for the opportunity to prolong their season.
“They’re excited to continue on,” Baisley said. “There’s disappointment, but kids are resilient; more resilient than coaches. When we go get something to eat tonight as a team, they’ll talk about the game and get ready for next week. We’re still playing.”
Land O’ Lakes plays at Mitchell on Tuesday, May 3 at 7 p.m.