Hernando was not underestimating an underdog Tavares team this year.
Led by a complete-game effort from Brandon Lawson, and an offensive display by Christian Arroyo, the Leopards erased any doubt that history was going to repeat itself Wednesday night in a Class 5A, District 7 Tournament semifinal at Eustis
The Leopards beat Tavares, 10-1, in a game that felt much more one-sided than the score would indicate.
Last year the Bulldogs (7-18) caught fire right before the district tournament and upended top-seeded Eustis in the semifinals before knocking off Hernando in the final to take home the crown.
After a scoreless top of the first the second-seeded Leopards (21-5) started their attack early when Arroyo laced a double down the left-field line to open the frame. He would come around to score two batters later on a wild pitch.
“It starts on the bump with us.” Hernando head coach Tim Sims said “To go out there and put up a zero in the top half of the inning set the tone.”
Set the tone it would, as Hernando pounded sixth-seeded Tavares’ starter Austin Baskette to the tune of five runs in 1 1/3 innings.
Baskette would depart with the bases loaded in the bottom of the second inning and reliever Alexi Martinez was welcomed by Arroyo who took an offering over the left-field fence for a grand slam.
“Good things happen when you play for the team,” Arroyo said. “We all have one goal, but I fouled off some good pitches, saw some good pitches and good things happened.”
Arroyo finished 3-4 with five RBI, but gave the credit to his pitcher Lawson.
“He's the definition of a competitor,” Arroyo said of Lawson. “He's always giving 120 percent out there and it makes it a lot of fun to play defense behind him.”
Lawson finished the day with a line of seven innings pitched, three hits allowed and 12 strikeouts.
The only hiccups of Lawson's outing was a solo home run allowed to Tavares shortstop Christian Germeroth, in the fourth inning, and loading the bases in the sixth inning, but Lawson escaped the situation unscathed by getting a key strikeout on a full count.
“Brandon is the true epitome of a pitcher,” Sims said. “Mixing pitches, changing speeds and locations, and dictating the pace of the game. He got into a few spots but he really slowed down and worked out of them.”
The win secures the Leopards a spot in the regional playoffs, but before they get their they have a third meeting with host Eustis in the 5A-7 title game Friday at 7 p.m.
Eustis beat Hernando 8-3 and 3-2 in the two regular-season meetings, accounting for the Leopards’ only two losses in district play.
“The approach stays the same,” Arroyo said “We want to go out there and get the win. We are all thankful to have another day on this field as a unit and hopefully we can continue to ride this streak to a state title.”
As for Coach Sims, the path to a district title is as easy as following a recipe.
“It will start on the mound with (Trae) Ratliff.” Sims said. “We need to come out and throw up some zeros and just play. The ingredients are in the oven, let it cook and go play.”
Hernando 10, Tavares 1
TAV – Baskette, Martinez (2) Chilton (2) Germeroth (4) and Urbon .
HER – Lawson and Johnson.
W – Lawson (8-0). L – Baskette.
2B – Arroyo (HER), Thomas (TAV).
3B – None.
HR – Arroyo (HER), Germeroth (TAV).
Records – Hernando (21-5), Tavares (7-18).