By STEVE JACKSON
The bad news is the Lennard Longhorns lost 1-0 to Braden River in Lennard’s first-ever appearance in a baseball district championship finale last week.
The good news is coach Kennedy Duran’s diamond squad remains in the hunt for the State 7A championship final four in Ft. Myers set for May 31 and June 1. The only catch: the Longhorns must win at Osceola High May 15 (after press time) and then beat the winner of the 25-1 Mitchell Mustangs at Braden River Pirates game on May 15. The winners of those two semi-final games will play a Region 3 final tentatively set for 7 p.m. on May 18 at Osceola High in Seminole for the right to advance to Ft. Myers.
Lennard won in the opening round of the 7A-District 9 tournament at Tampa Bay Tech last week by beating TBT 12-2 in a 6-inning mercy rule game. The Longhorns were somewhat discombobulated and had to overcome a slow-start to finally claim the victory over TBT, a 5-19 team the Longhorns had steamrolled in two previous wins. Lennard star pitcher Yazael Nunez, who also flashes the leather playing shortstop when not on the mound, allowed a single run in the bottom of the second as TBT tied the game at one apiece. Then Lennard started a scoring parade in the third that culminated in the mercy rule as Nunez only yielded one more meaningless TBT run. For the Longhorns, Alec Mangual posted 2 RBI, including the go-ahead sacrifice fly.
Next up was Lennard vs. Braden River. Lennard had already clinched the 7A-District 9 regular season first place, going 18-5 overall, and Braden River brought a 15-12 overall and second place 5-3 regular season mark into the regional quarterfinals on May 8 at the TBT diamond. In a classic pitchers’ duel the Pirates’ Calvin Hedgepeth nudged the Longhorns’ Edward Tarrant, who went 7 innings, gave up 6 hits, walked 1, and struck out 4. Braden River, en route to its third straight district championship, scratched out the game’s only run in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Lennard loaded the bases in its last at bat with only one out, but could not push across the tying run in a heartbreaking loss.
Speaking to the media after the game, coach Duran said, “I’m very proud of my guys. They fought all night. We’re going to keep on fighting until the last out.”
Duran continued waxing positive about the amazing season put together by this year’s record-setting edition of Longhorns. “Thirteen years ago when Lennard High school first opened, only eight kids showed up to try out for baseball,” he said. “Then we get (pitcher) Jackson Tetreault drafted by the Washington Nationals (see The Observer News 4/18/19).
“It’s hats off to the community of Ruskin,” added Duran, “We’re playing for the crowd that follows us around and for the parents.”