BROOKSVILLE – Hernando head coach Tim Sims has so often talked about his Leopards making other teams beat them while not beating themselves.
For most of this season and the previous four, his teams have lived by that mantra, resulting in four district titles, five regional appearances and four trips to the Elite Eight.
But during one inning in Wednesday night’s Class 5A, Region II quarterfinal at Emerson Field, they violated that golden rule, and it proved enough for visiting Sunlake to pull out a 2-1 victory.
“You’ve got to handle the rock,” Sims said. “They did a good job of putting it in play against (pitcher Kyle) Kilbourne. We didn’t handle it. That’s the difference.”
The pitchers’ duel between Hernando’s (23-5) senior ace Kilbourne and senior lefty David Castillo of the Seahawks (18-9) indeed materialized in a game that started an hour late thanks to the afternoon’s inclement weather.
It was a contest lacking in much action. The two teams combined for seven hits, all singles, and aside from the three runners who scored nobody else made it beyond second base.
Everything turned in the top of the second, an inning where Sunlake never hit a ball out of the infield.
Omar Cala and Zac Scranton started the frame with back-to-back infield singles in a nearly identical spot toward the second baseman.
Following a strikeout, Alex Anderson smoked a grounder to third that could have gone for a potential double play; instead it ricocheted off the third baseman for an error.
With the base loaded, Ryan Talburt hit a slow grounder to second, resulting in a force out there and a throw that sailed well over the first baseman, allowing two runs to cross.
“I think anytime in these high-pressure games you get a couple runs on the board, the other team gets kind of tight and it makes it more difficult for them,” Sunlake head coach Dick Rohrberg said.
Kilbourne held the Seahawks at bay the rest of the way. A leadoff error in the third was erased by the hidden-ball trick at second, and beyond that Kilbourne allowed two more hits by Cala and a walk to John Eales.
He tossed a complete game, giving up four hits and that one free pass in seven innings, striking out 10. Neither of the runs he permitted was earned.
However, he and his teammates could do little offensively against Castillo.
Austin Treverton’s single to left beginning the bottom of the fourth was the Leopards’ first hit. They wouldn’t have another until Kilbourne’s groundball slipped through the hole to right field leading off the seventh.
Tyler Allen singled with one out, ending Castillo’s night on the mound.
Talburt took over to face Brendan Litwinsky, and after a wild pitch put runners on second and third, he induced a grounder to short.
On that play, courtesy runner Logan Flood scored while Allen got caught in a rundown trying to advance to third. The next batter hit into a force at second to end the game.
Castillo went 6 1/3 innings, yielding the one run on three hits and three walks against 11 strikeouts.
“He battled,” Rohrberg said. “At times he struggled a little bit with his control, and he just kept fighting and kept fighting and he wouldn’t let me take him out of the game.
“I think they were looking for his curveball a lot more, and we didn’t throw a lot of curveballs. We threw more changeups, and I think that kept them off-balance. Our game plan was to try to get ahead and just keep pounding the zone.”
This marked the Seahawks’ first regional victory in their first-ever trip to regionals.
“It’s tremendous,” Rohrberg said. “It’s great for the kids. It’s great for the school. We’ve been working for a long time and finally starting to turn the corner a little bit, and being successful with the program. So it’s just a great feeling.”
Sunlake will play Pasco, the runner-up in Hernando’s district, in Tuesday’s semifinals.
The Pirates defeated Land O’ Lakes on Wednesday, 8-3, and joined the Seahawks and Belleview, an 8-2 winner over Citrus, as district runners-up to win their quarterfinals within the region.
The Leopards certainly had a realistic opportunity to return to the Final Four, where they advanced in 2010, but considering they graduated all eight regular starters from last season, the veteran mentor Sims was far from disappointed.
“I’m very proud of this particular senior group,” Sims said. “They had to sit behind that senior group last year for two years. They’re good baseball players. I’m very proud of them, and they can be very proud of 23-5. That’s an outstanding year.”
Sunlake 2, Hernando 1
123 456 7 R H E
SUN 020 000 0 — 2 4 0
HER 000 000 1 — 1 3 3
SUN – Castillo, Talburt (7) and Eales.
HER – Kilbourne and Treverton.
W – Castillo (7-3). L – Kilbourne (9-2). S – Talburt (1).
2B – none.
3B – none.
HR – none.
Records – Sunlake (18-9), Hernando (23-5).