Osceola baseball going to 7A state tournament
By Rick Pedone
After twice knocking on the door, the Osceola Kowboys baseball team busted through to the Class 7A state tournament Friday by blanking Tampa Sickles, 3-0, in the 7A-2 regional final at Kowboys field.
Osceola, 25-6, will play Tarpon Springs East Lake in the semifinals at 7 p.m. at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox. Tallahassee Chiles will play Hialeah American in the 4 p.m. semifinal. The winners meet Saturday at either 4:05 p.m. or 7:35 p.m. for the championship, pending the Brighthouse Networks TV schedule.
Junior pitcher Jake Grenus threw a masterful three-hitter, struck out eight and did not allow a Sickles runner into scoring position until there were two out in the top of the seventh inning.
Sickles got two runners on before Grenus closed the door. Tuesday, Haines City loaded the bases in the seventh inning against Grenus when he saved a 5-4 semifinal round victory.
“I have a little bit of trouble in the seventh, but I felt good. I had the carryover from Haines City and I was ready,” he said.
Osceola Coach Scott Birchler said Grenus, 8-1, threw another gem.
“Jake has been outstanding for us all year, except in the seventh inning he wants to make me sweat,” Birchler, who got a Gatorade shower from his jubilant team, said. “I told the guys that we’ve been close and that there were going to be a lot of people in the stands, but they weren’t here to put on pressure, they were here to support us. I told them to relax and have some fun with it.”
The Kowboys reached the regional final two years ago but lost to Brandon, and last season Osceola was upset by Harmony in the regional semifinals.
The Kowboys scored all of their runs with two outs in the third inning off Sickles starter Troy Bacon, who brought a 7-1 record and 1.12 ERA into the game. It started when second baseman Chris Vazquez beat out a grounder to shortstop.
Then, on a hit-and-run, center fielder Gabriel Pedraza ripped a double down the right field line that brought home Vazquez to make it 1-0.
Pedraza said he waited for his pitch.
“I was looking for a fastball. I got a change up, then I got the fastball,” he said.
Birchler said he wanted to be aggressive in the third inning.
“Oh yeah, you have to be. You aren’t going to get many chances against a kid like that,” Birchler said.
After Bay McIntosh drew a walk, Gustavo Rios ripped a double down the left field line that brought home two huge insurance runs.
“It was a 3-1 count, a power count. I was looking for a fastball,” Rios, one of 14 seniors on the Kowboys, said. “This is a huge win. We finally made it to the state tournament. This team never gave up.”
The game started 45 minutes late because Sickles was delayed by an accident on I-4.
OHS made one previous state tournament appearance, in 1991, where it lost to Pensacola Escambia in the semifinal round at the since-demolished Baseball City complex.