It was a case of too little, too late.
The Land O’ Lakes High School’s Gators’ baseball team’s memorable season came to an end on April 19, after an upset loss to the Zephyrhills High School’s Bulldogs in the Class 6A, District 7 semifinals at Pasco High.
The score was 3-2.
The Gators entered the game with a 20-4 record and an unblemished 10-0 mark in district play, before falling to a Bulldogs team that hadn’t won a district game in nine years.
However, the Gators didn’t have much of an answer when matched up against Zephyrhills senior right-hander Riley McClellan (2.49 ERA), who held the Gators to four hits in the game. McClellan did not allow a run until the seventh inning, when Land O’ Lakes junior outfielder Brayden Lyman hit a two-run home run. But, it was not enough to overcome the Bulldogs, who amassed eight hits and three runs against Land O’ Lakes senior righty and High Point (North Carolina) University signee Kirby Osborn.
Despite an impressive overall record, the Gators were somewhat reeling down the stretch of the regular season with non-district losses to Sunlake High (2-0) on April 8 and Fivay High (4-3) on April 12.
Armed with two of Pasco County’s best pitchers in Osborn (0.84 ERA, 76 strikeouts) and junior right-hander McCabe Sargent (0.48 ERA, 55 strikeouts), the Gators had their eyes set on a deep playoff run, with state championship aspirations.
“We had something a lot of teams didn’t have—two really good pitchers,” Gators coach Jeff May said. “Pitching was definitely our backbone. It wasn’t because of our hitting.”
With a team .273 batting average that lacked power hitters—Land O’ Lakes hit two home runs all season— the Gators often would get just enough hits to win a ballgame.
Though the Gators had a .83 win percentage, several of the team’s victories were by small margins. Of the team’s 20 wins, seven of them were by two runs or fewer.
May acknowledged a lot of those games “really could’ve gone either way in the end.”
Oftentimes, the Gators struggled to put runs on the board, placing additional pressure on the pitching staff. They scored three runs or fewer in 10 games, including the loss to Zephyrhills—a team they had beaten twice this season.
“That’s been our problem all season, and it came back to bite us,” May said about the team’s dearth of offense throughout the season.
Their season ends on a sour note, and short of their lofty postseason expectations, but the Gators expect to be one of Pasco’s better teams in 2017.
They will lose productive seniors in Osborn, catcher Jake Weber and outfielder Austin Forest, but much of the team’s key pieces return, including Sargent, shortstop Max Law (.389, six doubles, 14 RBIs) and second baseman Dustin Harris (.354, 21 runs scored). Pitcher Troy Klemm (1.81 ERA in 27 innings pitched), a lanky 6-foot-5 right-hander, also figures to emerge as the No. 2 pitcher after Sargent next season.
The Gators certainly won’t lack experience, as the roster is expected to feature more than a dozen seniors in 2017.
There’s always next year:
The Land O’ Lakes Gators figure to be one of the more senior-laden teams in the area next season, with more than a dozen seniors expected to be on the 2017 varsity roster.
- Pitcher/Third Baseman Lance McCabe Sargent
- Shortstop Max Law
- Second baseman Dustin Harris
- Pitcher Taylor Klemm
- Pitcher Kirby Osborn
- Outfielder Austin Forest
- Catcher Jake Weber
Published April 26, 2016