These days, Hernando really does give off the vibe that it’s simply business as usual.
After Brandon Lawson fanned the final batter of Thursday’s Class 5A, Region II quarterfinal at Emerson Field, clinching a 5-0 victory over visiting Wesley Chapel, there was little hint of celebration on the home side.
The Leopards simply strode out of the dugout and went through their usual postgame routine; just another day at the office.
“We’re locked in,” Lawson said.
Of course, this is the fourth straight year the Leopards (23-5) have reached this stage, and this marked their eighth regional victory during that span. So this group has certainly been there, done that.
On Tuesday Hernando will try to earn its fourth consecutive trip to the Elite Eight when it hosts Eustis in a semifinal at 7 p.m. That’ll be a rematch of the 5A-District 7 title game won by the Leopards last Friday, 5-2.
Prior to that win, the Panthers had captured all five meetings between the two squads the past three seasons, including the first two this year.
Following Christian Arroyo’s leadoff single in the bottom of the first, Brooks Timmons, Lawson and Jake Johnson all worked walks to plate the game’s initial run.
Ingram was visited by pitching coach Steve Mumaw and promptly struck out the next three batters to avoid further damage.
The Leopard also wasted an opportunity in the third, when Lawson singled to start the inning and his courtesy runner, Tyler Allen, ended up on third with one away.
It appeared Hernando would strand two more in the fourth when Timmons hit a slow grounder to shortstop Corey Mumaw. However, Mumaw struggled to set up for the throw and his toss scooted away from first baseman Jared Crescentini, allowing two runs to come across.
Lawson walked and Johnson hit a blooper to shallow right that fell between the second baseman and right fielder, driving in another pair.
The senior catcher went 2-for-3 with a walk and three runs batted in, continuing to swing a hot bat after a slow start. He’s hitting .469 (15-of-32) with 13 RBI over the Leopards’ current 11-game winning streak.
“I know I’m feeling good when I miss-hit a ball terribly and it flares over for a clean two-RBI single,” Johnson said. “I’m seeing pitches a lot better. I’ve got my confidence back.”
He also had a front-row seat for Lawson’s performance. The senior right-hander, signed with USF, was masterful, facing one batter over the minimum in seven innings.
“I can’t say enough about Brandon tonight,” Johnson said. “Everything was working. He had great command of his fastball. He had very good velocity on it tonight. He had command of every pitch.”
Lawson gave up three singles, two of which were immediately eliminated on double plays. He walked none and struck out seven, improving to 9-0. Wesley Chapel came in hitting .345 as a team, yet never got a runner as far as second.
For good measure, Lawson tacked on a RBI single to the right-center field gap in the sixth, completing a 2-for-2 night at the plate. He also walked twice.
“Tonight was a really accurate night,” Lawson said. “I spotted everything. When I wanted to make people chase, I made people chase. When I wanted to get a fly ball and when I wanted to get a groundball, I got them.”
“Brandon Lawson hit is spots very well tonight,” Hernando head coach Tim Sims said. “He had composure. That was as good a rhythm as he’s had. He had a downward plane on everything.”
The University of Florida signee went 1-for-2 with two walks and scored three times, stealing two bases, but he also cleanly fielded five grounders and was part of two double plays.
“The playing surface was real good. It was kind of damp. There were a lot of good hops. The ball was staying true,” Arroyo said. “As far as the defensive stuff, we’ve been working hard on it. We pride ourselves on our defense.”
Second baseman Garrett Treverton also looked smooth, Timmons came off the bag at first to catch an errant throw and tag out a runner to complete a double play, and right fielder Eloy Ramirez made a nice over-the-shoulder running catch on a fly ball in the second.
Hernando ended up totaling ninth, with Rich Wilkes contributing a 2-for-4 showing.
At this point, the Leopards have the look of a well-oiled machine, and they’ll try to keep marching along next week.
“We’re on a roll right now,” Arroyo said. “As a team we’re really confident. Everyone from the number one hitter to the number nine hitter is driving the ball all over the field. We’re playing great defense. We’ve got the pitching going well. If we keep this play up, we can make a state run.”
Hernando 5, Wesley Chapel 0