LAKEWOOD RANCH — Zach Hoppe spent most of the night tossing and turning as he struggled to fall asleep.
The Lakewood Ranch sophomore pitcher and right fielder had spent more than three hours the night before wrapped up in the longest game of his young prep career.
The Mustangs 1-0 victory over Bayshore April 27 in a 14-inning Class 4A-District 10 quarterfinal thriller propelled Lakewood into the district semifinals April 28 — where the team would face rival Braden River for the third time this season.
“Adrenaline was keeping me up (Tuesday) night, and I didn’t get much sleep,” Hoppe said. “But it’s districts. You’re always going to be excited. I could’ve played through the night and still come out and been ready and all fired up. It’s a pure adrenaline rush.”
Youth and adrenaline proved to be the perfect combination for the right-hander, who pitched his first complete game of the season against the Pirates, leading Lakewood (15-12) to a 4-2 victory. With the win, the Mustangs advanced to the district championship for the first time since 2007 and ended Braden River’s (15-12) two-year district title run.
Hoppe allowed two runs on six hits — both of which came in the fifth inning — while striking out four.
“I just had command of my pitches, and all of my defense and offense were helping me out, so it was a team effort,” Hoppe said. “I was just ready to play this game to come out here and take on our rivals. I’ve grown up with a lot of these kids, so it just made the game more fun.”
The Mustangs jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the third inning when Brett Hanewich and Reggie Lindsey hit RBI singles to drive in Shane Davidson and Zack Larson — both of whom opened the inning with singles. Lakewood scored its third run when Pirates pitcher Stephen Fischer was called for a balk.
The Pirates responded in the fifth inning, scoring a pair of runs on back-to-back singles by Marc Monroe, Pedro Santana, Mick Oltisky and William Patterson. But Hoppe was able to retire eight of the next nine batters he faced, and Lakewood added an insurance run in the fifth inning to preserve the victory.
“He’s been my go-to guy all year long,” coach Mike Mullen said of Hoppe. “I felt like Braden River was probably going to be our toughest opponent in the tournament, and I felt like Zach probably had the best opportunity to beat Braden River.”
The lengthy quarterfinal, in which Hanewich pitched 10 innings — the most one can pitch in high school — could have been disastrous for the Mustangs heading into their semifinal.
Instead, the players arrived early for batting practice — all too eager to get the game under way.
“I thought they came out to the ballfield today during batting practice pretty relaxed,” Mullen said. “We were ready early, so it was just a matter of lets get this game underway.”
In the district final April 30, the Mustangs fell to top-seeded Seminole Osceola 6-2. Hanewich hit a two-run home run, giving Lakewood the early lead, but the Warriors proved to be too much for Lakewood.
Lakewood traveled to District 9 winner Tampa Jefferson May 4 for a Class 4A-Region 3 quarterfinal; however, results from Tuesday night’s game were unavailable as of press time. The winner will face the winner of the other regional quarterfinal between Osceola and Tampa Jesuit in a regional semifinal May 7.
“We played teams that will teach us how to take it in the chin and to battle,” Mullen said of the team’s mid-season turnaround And those situations and those games really help out in games like this.”
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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