By Danny Aiello Jr
Twitter: Danny Aiello Jr
It took the smallest guy on the Sharks roster provide the biggest jolt of the season thus far, as Nature Coast scored four times in the bottom of the seventh, to win 6-5 over visiting Hernando Tuesday.
In a pitching matchup that featured Jonathan Gates vs Elijah Ramirez, runs figured to be at a premium, but sloppy play told the story for this game early on.
The Leopards (3-2, 3-2 5A-7) came into the game having notched three mercy-rule victories and a one-run loss.
The visitors would strike first in the top of the second inning. Tyson Libengood would double into right-center, and Morgan Ashton drove him home when he reached on an infield single to third.
The Nature Coast (5-1, 4-1 5A-7) defense wouldn’t help Gates out any, as in the third Brad Ellis hit a slow roller that was thrown away allowing a second run to score and runners to advance.
Gabe Bonilla executed a safety squeeze extending the Leopard lead to 3-0 and seeming to but Hernando in cruise control.
The Sharks would claw away at the Hernando lead, cutting it to 3-2 heading into the final frame when things seemed to go out of control.
Brandon Santiago lost control of the zone for the Sharks after getting two outs, walking six straight batters to give Hernando a 5-2 lead.
With the bases loaded and two out, Nature Coast brought in Ryan Lotito to stop the bleeding.
“We trust Ryan.” Sharks coach Frank Vitale said. “He’s done it before, he comes in and throws strikes.”
After escaping the jam, Lotito would deliver a huge blow offensively in the bottom of the seventh, a two-run double cutting the lead to one, and putting himself as the tying run on second base with Gates coming up to bat.
“I just knew JP is a consistent hitter.” Lotito said. “He’s one of our best hitters this year and I was relying on him to get a big hit right there.”
Gates would deliver a booming double off the center field fence to tie the game.
After intentionally loading the bases with one out, Vitale would call for a squeeze and Matt Myers would lay one down, allowing the Sharks to walk off with a 6-5 victory.
The victory marked the first time Nature Coast had beaten Hernando in 13 tries, dating back to 2009.