“Ready to play. All caps. They were ready tonight.” That was what Hernando Baseball Head Coach Tim Sims said of his squad’s dominating 9-4 performance over the Springstead Eagles (13-7) at Emerson Field. Both teams came into game one of their two-game series, riding a wave of momentum. The Leopards (15-3) had won their last six contests, while the visiting Eagles had taken six out of their last seven. With Springstead averaging nine runs per game, it was going to take a special night on the mound or a hot night from the bats to take down the cross-county foe. Fortunately for the home team, they had both on Tuesday night.
“That’s the great thing about [being] a high school baseball coach, you know when they are ready and when they’re not,” Coach Sims said. “Tonight it was no doubt… We just played our game. We just played a little bit of Ernie ball tonight. I usually don’t do that, but we pull it out on special occasions.”
The two schools went back and forth in the first three and a half innings, with the Purple and Gold landing the first punch in the initial period. A pair of seniors got the scoring going as Anthony Talpa’s hit ran Cason Williamson home. The advantage would be short-lived as the visitors would earn two runs in the top of the third via a Junior Brendan Anderson homerun. Hernando would tie it up minutes later in the bottom of the same frame, but this was just the appetizer for the fireworks show that would be the fourth inning for the Leopards.
After walking Seniors William Taylor and Michael Savarese, the Eagles were forced to make a pitching change to Junior Michael Dressendorfer. Bringing a fresh arm to the mound did not benefit Springstead this night, though. The next batter, Junior Colten Cloud, used a perfectly timed and placed bunt-turned-double to reach second, advance Savarese to third, and run Taylor home. With only one out and runners on second and third, the floodgates opened. Williamson’s double over the pitcher’s shoulder ran Savarese and Cloud across home plate, and Talpa and Senior Tyson Morgan loaded the bases quickly thereafter. The onslaught continued as Williamson and Morgan added another pair of runs. The explosion would end with one last duo being run in by way of a double by Senior Andrew Vanalstine to bring the score to a commanding 9-2 advantage for the home team. While the Red, White, and Blue would tally a couple of runs in the seventh, it was too little too late as the Leopards traded runs for outs to put the game away. Not to be lost in the flurry of scoring was the performance of the pitching staff, namely Senior Pitcher Carlos Gonzalez.
“Players win, coaches lose,” Coach Sims said. “Carlos Gonzalez goes out tonight with nowhere near his best stuff and absolute just gutted it out for five and two-thirds [innings]. And that’s what I told him. I mean, that’s a senior, four-year varsity guy, and there was some question as to who we were starting tonight, and they were surprised at him. No way. He’s a winner. You’re going to run him out there. In the illustrious words of Yogi
Berra and Whitey Ford, ‘It doesn’t matter how hard you throw, he gets people out.’ “
The only runs the senior surrendered were the two off of the homerun, and he responded expertly in the wake of it. Even without his “best stuff,” Gonzalez rebounded by gutting out three more scoreless frames before ending his night. As the coaching staff extracted him from the mound at such an opportune time, even his relief did not give up a run until the seventh.
The home team will hope to be able to handle the pitching situation similarly deftly on Friday night as they look to take the series from Springstead. As it is a two-game series, Coach George Nessmith’s squad will hope to go for the tie and avoid the sweep at the Eagles’ Nest. For Coach Sims’ Leopards, he will continue trying to keep them focused, communicating, and not putting too much pressure on themselves.
“As I call it, I give them eight seconds to be happy, be sad, be glad,” Coach Sims said. “Then, hit the reset button and move on to your responsibility, and this group does it.”