By Jeff Odom
The Wesley Chapel baseball team didn’t take home the Class 5A-District 8 title April 26, but it did clinch the program’s first playoff berth since 2011.
The No. 2 seeded Wildcats (19-5) led early, but fell behind tournament host and top-seed Pasco after the Pirates (20-8) put up four runs in the second inning to win 6-2.
“We hit the ball well tonight, but they made some excellent plays against us,” said Wesley Chapel coach Chuck Yingling. “We didn’t make the plays early in the game, and that cost us some runs because we didn’t make the plays. … Sometimes that’s the way it’s played, but you’ve got to stay focused.”
Pirates starter Lane Stancil, who had pitched just two innings in the regular season, walked Kyle Bierly to open the first, who advanced to second on a fielder’s choice. He took third on a passed ball, and junior Turner Imhoff, a Pasco transfer, hit Bierly home on another fielder’s choice to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead.
Wesley Chapel had a chance to break it open in the second inning with the bases loaded and two outs, but a weak groundball by Michael Jones got the Pirates out of the jam.
Not much went right for the Wildcats after that.
Pasco tied the game in the bottom of the frame when Matt Plourde reached on a fielding error and Troy Rivera doubled to center field off Wesley Chapel lefty Hunter Robinson to make it 1-1.
Two straight throwing errors by the Wesley Chapel infield scored Rivera from second and gave the Pirates runners on the corners with one out. Robbie Hanlon kept the rally going with an RBI single to right field, and Phillip Wilson finished it off when he stole home to make it 4-1.
Pasco added an insurance run in the third when Logan Johnson slapped an RBI double.
Pirates first-year coach Pat Fortunato, an assistant for Yingling at Wesley Chapel for five seasons, said his team needed to give its tired pitching staff plenty of cushion and responded well despite the early deficit.
The Wildcats wouldn’t go quietly as they trimmed the lead to three in the fifth when Kyle Custer drove in a run on a sacrifice fly after a pair of walks to open the inning, and a Stancil wild pitch gave Wesley Chapel runners in scoring position with one out, but Pasco ended the threat there.
The Pirates added another run in the bottom of the fifth and worked out of a pair of jams in the sixth and seventh when the Wildcats got runners to second and third with two outs.
“(Making the playoffs) was a big challenge for them, and they did it,” Yingling said. “We’re excited about it, and now we just got to go play because it’s a one-game season every time you step out on to the field.”
Wesley Chapel defeated No. 3 Ridgewood 2-0 April 24 to earn a playoff berth.
Senior pitcher Chase Ingram gave up five hits and struck out eight in a complete game shutout of the Rams (15-10).
The Wildcats travel to Hernando for the regional quarterfinals May 2 at 7 p.m. Yingling said it’s going to be a tough test, but he knows his team will be focused.
“Nothing counts what we’ve done up until now,” Yingling said. “It’s all going to be about what we do starting (in practice) on Monday.”
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