For a veteran group like Hernando, Senior Night certainly has some special meaning.
But for a team like the Leopards, set to embark on the Class 5A, District 7 Tournament next week with hopes of advancing to a fourth straight Elite Eight, Thursday night’s contest at Emerson Field had more than sentimental value.
In a matchup of two of the best squads in the North Suncoast, Hernando appeared playoff-ready, recording a 4-0 triumph over visiting Land O’ Lakes.
Coming off Tuesday’s 4-3 victory over Springstead, the Leopards (19-5) were feeling good, riding a seven-game win streak with one more regular-season tilt left at Lakeland on Friday.
“Traditionally speaking, on Senior Night we’re playing Ridgewood or Land O’ Lakes, so it’s going to be a tough game,” Hernando head coach Tim Sims said. “It keeps them focused and attentive to the game, and they did a good job tonight.
“Senior Night is emotional because it might be the last time you walk on this field. You’d like to go out on a winning note and they can say that.”
Of the 10 players in the Leopards’ starting lineup, nine were seniors – junior catcher Austin Treverton being the only exception.
The higher-profile 12th-graders pulled their weight, with USF signee Brandon Lawson tossing a complete game, improving to 7-0 on the season.
Meanwhile, shortstop Christian Arroyo, signed with the University of Florida, went 4-for-4 with a double, a run batted in and a run scored.
“It’s potentially my last time playing here, so it’s good to end on a 4-for-4 note,” said Arroyo, who lifted his batting average to a gaudy .512.
“I feel confident at the plate. The most important thing is taking it into districts, regionals and hopefully make a state championship run.”
But Lawson snagged Josh Nissen’s liner back to the mound, and with the runner on the move tossed to first for an easy double play.
Having escaped that jam, the Leopards took control in the bottom half, starting with a leadoff walk to ninth-place hitter Garrett Treverton.
Arroyo followed with a double to put runners on second and third, and after a groundout to third failed to advance anyone, Lawson was given an intentional free pass.
That loaded the bases for cleanup man Jake Johnson. A wild pitch brought home Treverton, and Johnson drove in two more lacing a single to left field.
Hernando tacked on a run in the fourth behind a two-out rally. Eloy Ramirez walked and Garrett Treverton singled, then Arroyo’s base hit through the left side plated Ramirez.
Not that Lawson required more support. He scattered eight hits and walked one, striking out eight over his seven innings of work.
With this outing, the reigning Hernando Today Player of the Year lowered his earned run average to a staggering 0.28 and raised his strikeout total to 84 in 49.2 innings.
“I struggled tonight, actually,” Lawson said. “I didn’t have my best fastball. I had to work through everything and it was enough that I ended up fine in the end.
“They had a real good record coming in. They swing the bats well. But we have a good team this year. I think we’ll go far and this is a boost of confidence.”
Lakeland, a state runner-up in 2011, figures to provide one last test prior to the postseason. Hernando has lost in that series each of the past two years, 1-0 and 3-0, and Sims said one of the team goals is “to give the Dreadnaughts a good game.”
The Leopards have already done that against two quality opponents this week, a good sign with more important games to come.
“We’re on a roll,” Arroyo said. “We’re playing really well. As a team we’re doing what we have to do to win. As a team we’re playing exactly the way we want to and to our full potential.”
Hernando 4, Land O’ Lakes 0