by Daven White
The Nature Coast Sharks faced off against the Hernando Leopards on Wednesday evening April 14 at Hernando High School. The Sharks managed to keep their perfect away-game record alive with a hard win against a talented Leopard team.
The real battle came later in the contest. For the first six innings, it was all Nature Coast. Much of this can be credited to a strong defensive effort led by Montanez, who threw for six shut-out innings. On the offensive side, the Sharks gained an early 3-0 lead that they would keep until the end of the game. Montanez, already having a great night on the mound up to this point, extended the lead by one with a triple during the 5th. He would later advance home after an errant pitch by Hernando.
The Leopards struggled offensively as well, but began to show signs of life when Carter doubled in the bottom of the 5th. This did not result in any runs, but the Leopards were not finished yet.
The Sharks were not done either. With a triple and six shutout innings on the mound, Montanez added a home run to his list of accomplishments. It was a beautiful line drive over the left-center field wall, a solo homer but not the only run of the sixth inning. The Sharks added another to extend their lead to 6-0.
The first six innings were marked by some missed opportunities by the Leopards that put them in this situation. However, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th, it was just too big of an opportunity to pass up for Talpa, who hit a monster double to ignite a late comeback.
Talpa sent two runners home, giving the Leopards their third run of the inning. Their fourth and final score came by a wild pitch by Montanez, a rare mistake, which prompted the runner on third to steal home.
That was the final mistake by Nature Coast, who held on to win 6-4. “It was fun baseball, a backyard brawl...someone has got to come up with a nickname for this,” said Hernando Head Coach Tim Sims.
He may have been able to quip after the loss, but he did not lose the competitive spirit which has traditionally made him a winner. “It’s 14 innings of baseball and we’re still ahead,” he added.
Sims was referring to the previous night, when Hernando beat Nature Coast 9-1. The two scores combined still give the Leopard’s a 13-7 advantage.
“They took it to us last night,” said Nature Coast Head Coach Brandon Derespiris. “But we bounced back and answered the call.”