The Nature Coast baseball team rode a red-hot offense to a district championship repeat and just the second trip to the Sweet 16 in program history.
But perennial state title contender Orlando-Bishop Moore Catholic managed to cool off the Sharks’ bats in Tuesday night’s Class 5A, Region 2 semifinal. Still, visiting Nature Coast certainly held its own, but struck out 16 times and allowed the winning run to score on a wild pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning to fall, 2-1.
“The game could have gone either way. We had men on every inning except the first,” Nature Coast head coach Frank Vitale said. “We didn’t come up with the big hit when we needed it and didn’t put the ball in play enough. It’s tough when you give the other team 5 ½ innings of just playing catch.
“I told the guys, it was a successful season to go as far as we did. We made some history. We’re young. We had two freshmen starting in the game, so that helps with experience for next year.”
The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the fourth, when Kyle Mock doubled and scored on Connor Scheitzach’s single up the middle, giving the Hornets (19-10) a 1-0 advantage.
J.P. Gates knotted it up with a home run in the top of the sixth for the Sharks (19-10). But Mock reached on the first of two straight bunt singles in the bottom half, and eventually came around for the go-ahead score.
That was enough for Bishop Moore starter Josh Bates, who recorded all 16 of his team’s strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings of work. The Tulane commit gave up just the run on three hits and three walks. Jack McRae got the final out to earn the save.
On the other side, the Miami-committed Gates went six innings, permitting one earned run on five hits and a walk, striking out 11. Catcher Brandon Riera had the other two hits for the Sharks, going 2-for-3 with a triple.
Fortunately for Nature Coast, the juniors Gates and Riera should be back in the fold to guide the team into the 2018 campaign.
“As long as we stay healthy, we should be able to get back to that point. But you still have to play the games,” Vitale said. “We’ve got 10 losses and at least six of them we lost in the sixth inning. The sixth inning came back to haunt us again. Maybe next year we’ll win in the sixth inning instead of losing.
“But all and all, it was a successful season. I’m proud of the way my kids played. We did a good job of hitting as the season progressed. The two freshmen got valuable experience. We’re looking for them to be more mature as sophomores. And my core is all juniors. We’re looking for big things next year.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.