Photography by CHERYL CLANTON
On Tuesday, May 15th, the Nature Coast Sharks and Bishop Moore Hornets were set to do battle in a FHSAA Class 5A, Region II semifinal matchup, with the winner advancing to the region final. Roughly an hour prior to first pitch, a small blip on the radar caused a 10-minute shower with enough rain to put first and third base underwater, forcing the teams to play on Wednesday night.
Seems as though this extra day proved beneficial to the home team, and they have their MVP to thank for it.
Riding another stellar performance from senior pitcher J.P. Gates, the Sharks defeated the Hornets 3-0, advancing to the first Elite Eight berth in school history. Coming into this game, Bishop Moore was ranked as the 23rd best team in the state of Florida and had a 15-game winning streak.
The scoring started early for the Sharks, when senior catcher Brandon Riera laced a two-run double to right-center field, scoring Zach Funkhouser and Jayden Crawford. The final run was scored in the third inning with the bases loaded.
Gates finished the game on 81 pitches, surrendering only one hit and walking two while racking up 12 strikeouts, consistently stifling a powerhouse in the state. His stat line in these two wins almost reads like a typographical error: 14 innings pitched, no runs, three hits, four walks, and 24 strikeouts.
After the game, Gates was happy for his team’s progress: “This is the farthest we’ve ever made it in school history. Bringing three straight titles to NCT is a great accomplishment, but this is huge making it to the Elite Eight”.
Sharks head coach Frank Vitale had confidence in this group of young men, saying: “This is something we’ve done all year, scoring runs in the first inning. If we can get on the board early, we’re in good shape”.
For the visiting Hornets, starting pitcher Jake McRae was credited with the loss, surrendering three runs on two hits with a walk and two strikeouts in 2.1 innings pitched. His reliever, McGwire Holbrook, pitched the remaining 3.2 innings, surrendering two hits and no runs with three strikeouts.
Hornets head coach Tony Mehlich was highly complimentary of his opponent’s ace, stating “He (Gates) was phenomenal. He’s the best arm we’ve faced all season, and his professionalism is something else. With his talent, the sky’s the limit.”
With this win, the Sharks now stand one step away from their first berth in the baseball state semifinals in school history. On Tuesday, May 22nd at 7:00, the Sharks will travel to Alachua to face the Santa Fe Raiders, who came back from a 4-1 deficit entering the bottom of the seventh to stun Tavares, 5-4. Whoever wins this game will advance to the semifinal game on May 31st at 10AM against the 5A Region I champion. That region’s champion will either be the Bolles Bulldogs, Marianna Bulldogs, or Rickards Raiders.
UPDATE: SHARKS WON THE 5A REGION II FINAL, against SANTA FE RAIDERS @ SANTA FE HIGH SCHOOL. Are heading to FHSAA Class 5A state semifinals on Thursday May 31, 2018 at 10AM.