Countryside experienced a day of missed opportunities at a rather inopportune time Saturday afternoon.
Playing from behind nearly all game long against visiting Wiregrass Ranch, the Cougars repeatedly set themselves up for success only to watch each inning's potential squandered again and again.
Countryside's 12 stranded base runners – which included two bases-loaded situations – contributed largely to its season's demise, falling to the Bulls in a Class 7A region quarterfinal, 5-2.
“We left a ZIP code on the bases,” Cougars coach Kemo O'Sullivan said. “We had a couple nice doubles with nobody on. I would've liked to have seen a couple guys on there, but that's baseball.”
Both teams began Saturday's makeup game with flat performances from typically stud pitching stables. Both staffs combined to surrender six of the game's seven total runs and cede six of the game's nine total walks within the first two innings.
Starting pitchers Jake Mielock (Countryside) and Zach Drury (Wiregrass Ranch) turned in much shorter days than either expected. Mielock was relieved by Christian Townsend after two innings and Drury couldn't escape the first.
The Bulls struck first Saturday with two unearned runs in the opening frame. Left fielder Shane Bucenell sent a two-out grounder up the middle that Countryside shortstop Charlie Skantze fielded but threw away at first. Marcus Guzman and Michael Campoamor scored on the play shortly after executing a double steal. Wiregrass Ranch swiped four bags on the day.
Countryside responded with two of its own in the home half to tie things up, but also stranded the bases loaded with only one out – a precursor of things to come. Charlie Skantze atoned for his error by leading the inning off with a double and eventually scored on a wild pitch. Later in the inning, Jack Skantze sent an RBI double into left-center off relief pitcher Austin Drury to tie the game at 2-2.
All the additional runs Wiregrass Ranch would need came during its next plate appearances in the second. Zach Drury delivered a two-run, two-out single with the bases loaded to put the Bulls on top, 4-2.
Wiregrass Ranch's insurance run to make it 5-2 came in the fourth inning amid the game's most controversial sequence. After blasting an RBI double to left that scored Ryan Girard, Guzman got caught between second and third. During the ensuing rundown, Guzman knocked Townsend to the ground while being tagged out and was quickly ejected from the game.
Guzman had been 2-for-2 with the double, RBI, run scored and a walk prior to the ejection that momentarily appeared to energize the Countryside bench. The Cougars responded in the fourth by moving runners to second and third with one out, but came up empty in the clutch once again.
Wiregrass Ranch's relief pitching combination of Austin Drury (five innings) and Girard (1 2/3 innings) managed to bend but not break all night. Drury struck out five while picking up the win and Girard got credit for a save.
“I knew I was going to come in today but I was hoping it wasn't until the seventh,” Austin Drury said of his extended work from the mound Saturday. “When I was jogging up I was a little surprised, but I came in and did my job.”
Zach Drury joined Guzman as the Bulls to have two-hit days. Charlie Skantze did the same for Countryside, finishing 2-for-4 with a double and run scored.
For Wiregrass Ranch (18-9), the playoff win marked the first in the school's seven-year history. This year is the fifth straight winning season the Bulls have turned in but first that resulted in a playoff appearance.
“It's huge,” said Bulls coach Jeff Swymer said of the initial playoff victory. “To me, I think it can change the culture of a program. We preach about being a winning program. Well now we're in the playoffs – prove it. Go do something and make people know who you are. You beat a good program like Countryside with some good tradition, it's going to help our program and it's going to help down the road.”
The loss puts an end to an up-and-down season for this year's young, injury-riddled Countryside team. The Cougars finished up at 17-11 overall.
“We thought we could compete with this team and we had our chance in the first inning to really do some damage,” O'Sullivan said. “If we score a couple more runs it changes the complexion of the game, but we only got two across and that hurt us.
“But these guys are fighters,” he continued. “No question we were going to rally. That's just the way this team is. We always talk about getting the big hit and we didn't get it today.”
Wiregrass Ranch will now play state-ranked Steinbrenner High in Tuesday's Class 7A region semifinal at Steinbrenner. The Bulls lost all four previous meetings with the Warriors, including the District 7A-9 title game on April 25. Steinbrenner advanced by beating Seminole on Saturday, 6-1.
WR - 220 100 0 --- 5-8-0CS - 200 000 0 --- 2-7-2
WP – Austin DruryLP – Jake MielockS – Ryan Girard