By Kyle LoJacono
Wiregrass Ranch reached the final of the Pasco Varsity Spring Break Baseball Tournament for the second straight year.
Unfortunately for the tournament host the results were the same as in the event’s inaugural year in 2011. Last season cross-town rival Wesley Chapel defeated the Bulls (15-5) in the championship, while Mitchell (13-7) picked up a 4-2 W on April 6.
Wiregrass Ranch had to settle for its second runner-up trophy, but coach Jeff Swymer said playing four games in as many days made his team stronger.
“Any time you can play in a tournament like this it creates camaraderie amongst your kids,” Swymer said. “You find out what kind of depth you have as far as on the mound. It allows you to experiment some with guys in different positions. It’s great to create momentum into districts coming up.”
Swymer and the Bulls turned to lefthander Ryan Kopenski to start the contest. The senior threw 30 pitches in three relief innings to pick up a 5-4 win over Sunlake in the semifinals the night before.
“He sent me a text this morning that said he wanted the ball and that he felt fine,” Swymer said. “I gave him the ball and he pitched out of his mind.”
Kopenski didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning, but gave up an unearned run in the third after hitting Joe Koehler. He scored after a pickoff attempt got past first baseman Joel Marin.
Wiregrass Ranch still led 2-1 after scoring a pair of unearned runs in the top of the third. Marcus Guzman walked on five pitches, stole second, advanced to third on a Marin groundout and found the plate after Zack Drury reached on a strikeout with two down.
Drury continued the small ball for the Bulls, stealing second and third and scoring on an Alex Goebel single.
Kopenski got into a jam in the fourth. With one out and runners on second and third Mitchell pitcher Garrett Kriston hit a fast-falling liner to right field. Guzman sprinted in to make a diving catch, got to his feet and fired a laser toward home to nail Blake Heart at the plate.
“It was a great play, and honestly I thought that was going to shift the momentum,” Swymer said. “Their pitcher came out and got a 1-2-3 inning after that.”
Kriston allowed one hit during his last three innings while recording three of his nine strikeouts, including Wiregrass Ranch’s last two batters.
The Mustangs got two runs, one earned, in the fifth and added an insurance tally in the sixth. Kopenski used 78 pitches in 5.2 innings before Drury came in for the last out.
“Kopenski didn’t have his best stuff, but he’s a guy who everyone on this team trusts with the ball,” Swymer said.
Land O’ Lakes (15-5) won the consolation game 13-3 in six innings against Sunlake (8-11).
The Gators racked up nine hits and six walks. Alex Reynolds drove in four, three on a double and another on a sacrifice fly, while Brad Hencke had four RBI of his own including a three-run home run. Second baseman Dylan Harris had three doubles, drove in two and scored two runs.
Pitcher Jake Rawls worked the first 4.1 innings for Land O’ Lakes, giving up two runs in the winning effort. Harris threw the final 2.2 innings to record the save.
Pasco’s Robbie Hanlon won the home run derby by hitting eight in the first round and six in the final. Land O’ Lakes’ Joey Martinez and Koehler each hit four to tie for second.
Tradition grows in second year
Tammy Bullock of RBI Baseball and Wiregrass Ranch baseball coach Jeff Swymer had an idea to recreate Tampa Bay’s biggest tournament.
The inspiration is the Saladino Baseball Tournament, which takes place each spring break in Hillsborough County. The event generally includes all of the Hillsborough’s 27 public schools to declare the unofficial county champion.
That idea created the Pasco Varsity Spring Break Baseball Tournament last year.
“We volunteered to put this tournament on when Tammy talked about getting this started,” said Swymer, who was the pitching coach at Riverview for eight years. “I wanted to do something in Pasco like the Saladino to give these kids a feel for what it’s like.”
Bullock’s son, Billy, was coached by Swymer at Riverview. The former University of Florida closer is now with the Atlanta Braves’ AA team in Mississippi.
Bullock thanked Swymer, his coaches and players for helping put the event on.
“The coaches were here on the 8 a.m. game days at 5:30 in the morning getting the field ready, and then we were here until 11 at night,” Swymer said. “There’s a lot that went into putting these 22 games on. I can tell you the coaches are all ready for a beer and some sleep.”
Sunlake takes JV tournament
The Sunlake junior varsity baseball team defeated Wiregrass Ranch 9-1 to win the Pasco JV Spring Break Tournament at Zephyrhills on April 5.
The Seahawks (7-5) defeated Central 11-10 and Wesley Chapel 9-8 en route to the final. David Castillo pitched a complete game for Sunlake in the championship, allowing three hits while striking out nine. The offense recorded 12 hits, including a 3-for-4 effort for Omar Cala. Connor Kallenborn, Collin Armstrong and Johnathan Eales each had two RBI.