C.J. Risak / Chronicle Correspondent
LECANTO — Every coach’s dream: Saving your best for last. Play your best when it counts the most, at the end of the season, during the playoffs.
That’s just what Lecanto did in its District 6A-6 baseball tournament opener Tuesday against visiting Citrus. The Panthers sent 11 batters to the plate in a seven-run second inning, then combined that with Shawn Host’s solid pitching and a flawless defense to coast to a 9-3 triumph.
Lecanto, now 9-16, travels to meet top-seed Springstead at 7 p.m. tonight. Citrus finishes its season at 8-16.
"Pretty good, pretty good," was the description applied to the game by Lecanto coach Dave Logue. "I was glad to see us put our best game of the season together tonight. We played pretty much a complete game — pitching, offense, defense.
"It was a good time to do it, that’s for sure."
If it had been like the first two games this season between these teams — both ended 1-0, each side winning once — there might have been real concern in the Panther dugout early in the game.
That’s because three of the first four Hurricanes to face Host got hits, including a triple by Evan Badger. But the early onslaught delivered just one run, due to a rather unusual double play on a ball hit to second base by Westen Kinnard. Jayson Haufler was about to take the relay and toss it to first when Citrus’ Mitchell Barroso barreled him over. The umpires called interference on the play and both Barroso and Kinnard were ruled out.
So there were two out with no one on base when Badger tripled to left field. Ricky Gladu, Citrus’ pitcher, followed with a run-scoring single to make it 1-0. But the ’Canes missed a chance to put lot more on the board.
"We came out and put a run on the board," said Citrus coach Ryan Thomas, "but we should have put at least one if not two more. The momentum changed after that, we didn’t capitalize on some opportunities early and they took advantage of it. They took the momentum and ran with it in that second inning."
The Panthers didn’t wait until the second to take control, however. Seth Stockburger reached base on an error and John Fiorenza doubled to put runners at second and third in the bottom of the first. With two out, Cole Mann delivered a two-run single to put Lecanto up 2-1.
Mann would come through all game long, finishing with three hits, including a double, and four RBI.
The Panthers’ decisive second inning could have been stopped without much, if any, damage being inflicted, but Citrus couldn’t manage it. With runners at first and second and two out, Stockburger singled to center. The throw to Badger, the Citrus catcher, bounced away, scoring both baserunners and doubling Lecanto’s run total.
The ’Canes opted to deliberately walk Fiorenza, bringing Nicholas Morales to the plate. He doubled in one run and Mann followed with a two-run double, making it 7-1. Haufler’s ensuing fly ball was dropped, adding another a run, and one more was plated on a single that made it 9-1.
Nic Martin relieved Gladu and got the final out of that second inning, then tossed four more scoreless frames for Citrus. But the damage was done.
The ’Canes did get a run back in the third, Badger’s sacrifice fly driving it in, and C.J. Bianco’s pinch-hit double in the seventh also produced a run. But it wasn’t enough.
Now Logue can only hope his Panthers can keep it going.
"Tomorrow night is going to be a big challenge," he said after the game. "(Springstead’s) a tough team, they beat us 8-0 and 7-0. They got talent."
He added he plans to send Jarod Batson to the mound.
"He’s another lefty, he’s not an overpowering thrower but he can throw his curveball and change-up for strikes. We’re confident what he can do for us.
"If we swing the bat like we did tonight. ... we’ll put ourselves in a good spot, if we play defense and hit like we did tonight."
No errors, no walks, 12 hits: Sounds like a formula for victory.