CLEARWATER — Three runs in the first inning was all Northeast needed to hold off East Lake and win the Class 7A District 9 championship 3-2 Friday night, extending its current winning streak to 16 games in the process.
“Getting a home game is huge for us,” Vikings coach Rob Stanifer said of the title and not having to travel for next week's first round of the postseason. “We've had a goal from the start of the year to win this district. Now one goal down and we'll keep going and see what happens.”
Northeast will now look to get its first postseason victory since 2000 and sixth overall.
East Lake still qualifies for the Class 7A regional tournament, but saw its run of three straight district championships come to a close.
“Both teams competed and unfortunately there's only going to be one winner,” said East Lake coach Dan Genna. “But that's a quality, quality team over there. They were the one seed for a reason.”
Despite falling behind early, the Eagles didn't go down without a fight Friday. Junior Ian Lisle put East Lake on the board and back in the game with a 2-run homer to right off Northeast starter Josh Hale.
Lisle's four-bagger proved to be the only instance any Eagles baserunner would advance past second against Hale or Jesse Moeller. The senior starter worked the first six frames before giving way to his junior closer.
“[Hale] was getting up there at about 90 pitches and he was getting a little tired,” Stanifer said. “Jesse's been our man out of the bullpen all season. He's got a 0.36 ERA, so he's done a great job. If we're going to lose, I'll lose with him.”
East Lake made Moeller work for his third save of the season, putting runners at first and second following Keegan Maronpot's two-out base hit. But Moeller picked up his third strikeout of the inning to escape the jam and send Northeast players streaming out of the dugout to dog pile in front of the Countryside High School mound.
“I can't imagine a better feeling than this other than winning in regionals,” Hale said of the team's latest achievement. “I've been playing with these guys for the longest time and it's just a great feeling.”
Northeast wasted little time building its early lead.
Angelo Terrasi led off with a double to left, Chris Clark reached on a swinging bunt that stayed fair down the first-base line and catcher Bret Maxwell sent a two-run double to the left-center warning track. The lead expanded to 3-0 three batters later when second baseman Jason Mugavero lifted an RBI sacrifice fly to left that scored Maxwell from third.
“To start out that way was big for us,” Stanifer said. “We came out really swinging the bats and being aggressive to make some things happen.”
Lighting the scoreboard has been a struggle for East Lake this season. The Eagles have put up three runs or more just three times in the past 10 games. Though Northeast's early lead did hold, Genna credited his team's effort to stay in it until the end.
“To give up three in the first, that's tough,” he said. “But we didn't fold. We didn't give up a run after that.”
East Lake starter Ryan Wall lasted into the fifth before being relieved by Steven Plaskett with one on and no outs. As he's done nearly all season, Plaskett struck out five and slammed the door on Northeast over his two innings of work.
In addition to earning the championship hardware, Friday's winner guaranteed itself home-field advantage for next Wednesday's region quarterfinal round and, if victorious, also the region semifinal.
That means Northeast gets to stay home and host Bradenton Braden River rather than travel to District 7A-10 champion Sarasota High, Baseball America's No. 20 team in the country.
“Both teams competed and unfortunately there's only going to be one winner,” Genna said. “Now we've got a tough game against Sarasota, but we were going to have to face them or [Northeast] in the second round anyway.”
Ian Lisle – 1-for-2, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 BB
Keegan Maronpot – 2-for-3, 1 2B, 1 BB
Steven Plaskett – ND, 2.0 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 5 K, 0 BB – 0-for-3
Josh Hale – W, 6.0 IP, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 H, 6 K, 3 BB
Bret Maxwell – 1-for-3, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 2B
Kobe Hartley – 0-for-3 – Defensive SS (6 A, 0 E)