By Jeff Odom
Laker/Lutz News Correspondent
Before the season began, the Steinbrenner baseball team wanted to prove that it could make history by winning the first district championship in the program’s three-year history.
That mission took one step forward to accomplishment after the Warriors (13-6, 7-1 district) knocked off Freedom 2-0 at home on April 5 to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Class 7A-District 9 tournament in two weeks.
“It’s pretty sick,” said Steinbrenner senior pitcher Chris Williams. “You know it’s a big accomplishment, but it’s just the beginning for us.”
Williams, a Saint Leo University signee, tossed a complete game shutout without allowing a walk while striking out seven batters en route to his fifth win of the year.
Both teams combined for five scoreless innings to start the contest before a pair of defensive miscues gave the Warriors the game’s only runs.
In the sixth inning, Patriots (13-5, 5-3) senior pitcher Kyle Schindler plunked second baseman Christian Diaz on the back to put the senior aboard with no outs. After first baseman Chase Turner’s single to center field moved Diaz to second base, Warriors third baseman Gerald Bautista hit a ground ball that was thrown over the head of Freedom first baseman Jake Kitchen to score Diaz.
The bleeding continued as designated hitter Cole Gordon knocked in Bautista on a Kitchen fielding error.
“Both pitchers threw the ball outstanding and it just so happened that we made a couple of mistakes there in the last inning on the bases and in the field that cost us,” said Freedom coach A.J. Leppla.
The Patriots wouldn’t go down without a fight though, as they strung together three straight hits to quickly load the bases with no outs in the seventh inning.
Williams got some help from his catcher, Jesse Haney, who picked off Freedom second baseman Johnny Keigher for the first out. The pitcher took care of the final two outs on strikeouts.
“Chris had thrown so well and he was the guy we were letting get out of it,” said Steinbrenner coach John Crumbley. “A couple guys got base hits and we were just hoping that we got a good play here and good play there and we did. It was big.”
Schindler, who allowed just four hits and struck out seven batters, said he felt good about his arm and credited his counterpart.
“I’ve had a little trouble with my control and I wasn’t throwing as hard as I usually was, but I definitely made the adjustment today and I felt great,” Schindler said. He then added, “Just a great game by their pitcher.”
The Warriors did suffer a loss in the contest. Senior shortstop Stone Ramsey, who is hitting .317 with 11 RBI, broke his wrist after being hit with a pitch in the sixth inning. He was taken out of the game in the seventh after failing to complete a play.
The Patriots still have the No. 2 seed in the 7A-9 tournament at Gaither and have also secured the first winning season in the program’s nine-year history. They play Wiregrass Ranch in the district semifinals, with the winner advancing to the championship on April 26 at 7 p.m.
Steinbrenner plays the winner of game between Gaither and Chamberlain in the first round of the 7A-9 tournament.
The Warriors host Hillsborough on April 10 at 7 p.m., before traveling to George M. Steinbrenner Field to play Sickles at 4 p.m. Freedom hosts Durant on April 10 at 7 p.m.