By Kyle LoJacono
The Wiregrass Ranch baseball team defeated perennial powerhouse Gaither in the Class 7A-District 9 semifinals to clinch the first playoff berth in the program’s seven-year history.
“To finally get to be here and go to the playoffs, I don’t even have any words,” said senior center fielder Marcus Guzman. “Just so happy we could do this for Wiregrass Ranch.”
The No. 3 seed Bulls (17-7) shut out the second-seeded Cowboys (11-12) 3-0 on April 23 at Gaither.
The loss also clinches the first losing record for the tournament host since its inaugural season in 1985 and marks the first time Gaither has failed to reach the playoffs since 2004.
Wiregrass Ranch struck quickly in the top of the first inning.
Guzman scored the opening run after reaching on an outfield error, advancing on a fielder’s choice, stole third and crossed home on Michael Campoamor’s groundout to senior pitcher Hunter Henderson.
“All season we’ve had guys on with two outs, and we’ve failed to get the run in,” Guzman said. “I knew with two outs I had to be aggressive and get in and score that run.”
Pitcher Zach Drury also scored in the opening frame thanks to an RBI single by sophomore outfielder/first baseman Shane Bucenell.
That was all the run support Zach needed to pick up his seventh win of the season, but the junior was in and out of trouble throughout the contest as the Cowboys stranded 10 base runners. He allowed three hits and four walks to six strikeouts in the 104-pitch effort.
“My mechanics, I could feel that they were off,” said Zach, who used 45 pitches in the first two innings. “I started leaving everything up, so I had to start staying on top of the ball. I was feeling good, but the ball was just up. … They were swinging at some high fastballs early, and that really helped me get out of some of those jams.”
Henderson allowed only five hits and one earned run by keeping the Bulls off balance with his fastball and breaking pitches.
“That pitcher for Gaither is tough,” said Wiregrass Ranch coach Jeff Swymer. “I don’t know what it is he does to the ball, but he makes it dance and makes guys swing at pitches we shouldn’t.”
The Bulls added a run in the fifth when sophomore catcher Alex Goebel scored on sophomore Austin Drury’s sacrifice fly.
Austin, Zach’s brother, replaced him on the mound with runners on first and second base and one out in the sixth inning. The lefty got Rudy Dominquez to line out to center field and picked off Efley Espinal at first to end the threat.
Austin picked up his third save of the year by picking off courtesy runner Randy LoCicero after Henderson reached on a single, struck out Gaither leadoff hitter Tyler Tyson and forced cleanup hitter Chris Minor to pop up back to the mound with runners on first and second.
Wiregrass Ranch was unable to capture the 7A-9 championship, falling to Steinbrenner (22-2) 4-0 April 25. Swymer said he didn’t have to get on his players after the shutout loss.
“I could see that it bothered them, and it was good that it bothered them,” Swymer said. “The one that really matters is next Thursday.”
The Bulls travel to Countryside May 2 at 7 p.m. in the regional quarterfinals.
—Correspondent Andy Warrener contributed to this story
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