By STEVE JACKSON
Lennard Longhorns baseball had one more crack at extending its 2023 baseball season or packing it in for another year.
For the third time this year, Coach Victor Martinez’ Horns were set to do battle with the 17-8 Bloomingdale Bulls on Wednesday, May 10. Lennard dropped its second game with Bloomingdale last Thursday, 4-1, in a fight for the 6A-District 11 championship. Bloomingdale also prevailed 8-2 in a regular season contest between the two squads in late March.
The 17-9 Longhorns were the lone South Shore baseball team to log a win in last week’s district play, as they toppled Palmetto High 6-2 in a quarter final game to make the district championship with Bloomingdale. The four other South Shore squads all lost in their opening round of the district playoffs early last week to end their 2023 baseball campaigns. In opening rounds May 1, Sumner High succumbed 11-0 to Steinbrenner, Riverview dropped a 9-3 decision to Palm Harbor High, East Bay was bombed 15-5 by Plant City and Spoto was upset 5-1 by Freedom High. Coached by Kennedy Duran, Sumner compiled a 11-13 record for the season. The Riverview Sharks of Coach Jason Smith ended the year at 8-15. East Bay struggled to a 4-17 mark under Coach Rowland Ruiz. Spoto’s diamond season ended at 10-14 with Coach Stephon Knight at the helm for the Spartans. The overall record for the five South Shore baseball teams last week was a dismal 1-5.
Lennard was seeded number 1 in the 6A-District 11. Bloomingdale was seeded number 2. The Longhorns and the Bulls both had first-round byes. The two clashed last Thursday. The Bulls picked up four early runs and held on to claim the District 11 title 4-1. Both the Bulls and the Horns were given berths in the FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association) Regional playoffs. Lennard plays Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Bulls home field in Valrico. The winner then has the unenviable task of facing, most likely, the powerhouse 25-2 Sickles Gryphons in the bracket’s second round. The Gryphons are riding a 17-game winning streak. At this stage in the regionals, the winner advances and loser goes home as its season closes.
Lennard had too much talent for 10-17 Palmetto High in the May 9 district playoff game. The visiting Tigers scored first and led 2-0 going into the bottom of the fifth inning in Ruskin. Lennard hit for three runs to take the lead. The Horns tacked on four more runs the next inning to claim the victory 7-2. Logan Covey whacked out 2/3, two runs, three RBIs with a double and a triple. The Longhorns received great pitching from starter senior Carter Payne and reliever junior Zack Bird, who closed the last inning.
Lennard then faced Bloomingdale in the championship for District 11. The Longhorns were dominated by Bulls pitcher Jacob Magadan for the first five innings. The Bulls scored three early runs off Horns pitcher Jackson Mueller. Magadan was roughed up a bit by Lennard in the last inning, but a brief rally for one lone run was put down with the bases loaded with Longhorns. Lennard Coach Martinez told the media after the loss,“We could have easily packed it in and been done with it.
But our team fought til the end. I am proud of them.”
The 4-1 defeat to Bloomingdale did not prevent Lennard from being invited to the state regional playoffs. The Horns have yet one more chance to beat Bloomingdale and continue the 2023 baseball season. However, a third loss to Bloomingdale this Wednesday would end the Longhorns’ campaign at 17-10.
High school baseball teams around Florida are engaged in a highly competitive regional playoff system, in seven classifications or districts, which continues as long as a team wins. The state finals start May 17 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. State Semifinals are at the same site May 23. The championship game is the next day on May 24.