By: Danny Aiello Jr
Nature Coast used a nine-run second inning, and clutch pitching down the stretch to hold off a fierce Hernando comeback and capture their first district championship Friday by a score of 13-8.
Host of the tournament, but visitors on the scoreboard, the Leopards (17-11) opened the scoring in the first inning after a ninety minute rain delay.
Andres Cabrera laced a 2-run single, following a single and an error, giving Hernando a short-lived 2-0 lead.
Nature Coast (20-4) would score nine times in the bottom of the second inning highlighted by Brandon Riera’s three-run homer.
Riera led off the inning with a double, then after an error and two walks loaded the bases and cut the lead to 2-1, Brandon Santiago hit a two-run double, giving the Sharks a 3-2 lead.
Despite being down 9-2 after two, Hernando would rally back and ultimately have a chance to tie the game as the wheels almost completely fell off for the Sharks in the fifth inning.
Cabrera would hit an RBI single, and after an RBI groundout by Tyson Libengood and single from Tyler Skipper, Hernando was in business.
Eight straight balls from Hunter Rhineberger who came on in relief of Santiago would make things dicey for the Sharks, seeing their cut to 9-7 with the bases still loaded.
Sharks coach Frank Vitale would go to Ryan Lotito, his relief ace, and Lotito did what he has done all season, getting a huge strikeout to end the fifth and keep Nature Coast in front.
Lotito would strike out two of three in the sixth inning before the Sharks added insurance in the seventh.
Santiago would hit a two-run single making it 11-7, before a wild pitch and error made it 13-7 Nature Coast.
Skipper would add an RBI double in the bottom of the seventh cutting it to 13-8, but Lotito would end the game, earning the save with a strike out and a dog pile in dense fog, sending Nature Coast home with the title.
Hernando made an uncharacteristic seven errors in the game.
The Leopards will travel to Orlando to play Bishop Moore High School in a regional quarterfinal Wednesday while Nature Coast will host Lake Highland Prep. First pitches are scheduled for 7 p.m. weather permitting.