HUDSON - Trae Martin already had lost to Ridgewood twice this season, so instead of a third loss, he opted for a three-run home run.
The Land O'Lakes senior third baseman capped a six-run second inning with a shot to leftfield on an 0-2 pitch for an 8-0 lead, and the Gators held off the top-seeded Rams for an 8-4 victory in the Class 4A, District 8 championship Thursday night.
"It feels real good, especially beating a good team like that," said Martin, who had four RBIs in Tuesday's semifinal before hitting his first home run of the season Thursday. "They're an awesome team. I was real fired up. I didn't want to go home losing. Three times to the same team would have been tough."
No.2 seed Land O'Lakes (22-6), who finished behind Ridgewood in the conference and the district, got its 15th win in 16 games, buoyed by a surprisingly dominant start from junior Chris Perez (2-0), who held the Rams to two hits in five innings. Before Thursday, Perez had pitched only five innings all season as he recovered from a knee injury suffered during football season.
"I was going to be happy with two innings from him," said coach Calvin Baisley, who got his first district title since 2000 and will open the regional playoffs at home Tuesday. "I was hoping for three, but five, that's more innings than he's thrown this year."
Ridgewood (20-7) lost in the district final as the top seed for the second year, rallying for four runs in the sixth and putting the tying run on deck in the seventh. Senior Jonathan Zunz shut the door on the Rams, getting the last three outs with strikeouts swinging.
Chris Leslie gave the Gators a 2-0 lead in the first, then Land O'Lakes scored six runs in the second off starter Lee Krieg (5-3). The Gators had the bases loaded with no outs, then got an run-scoring single from Brandon Vari and a two-run double by Caz Piurowski. Martin broke the game open with a three-run home run to leftfield.
Ridgewood opens the postseason Tuesday on the road, as it did last season on the way to reaching the state championship game.
"Maybe we play better when we know the season's over when we lose," Rams coach Larry Beets said. "They'd better (bounce back), or it's going to be a long jog back from wherever we go. We're going to bring an extra pair of shoes because we might wear them out before we get back. We'll get those ones with lights on them, so they'll see us on the side of the road. We're planning on winning. Maybe this will be something that kickstart us."
Homers lift Pirates
ZEPHYRHILLS - With his team trailing 3-0 in Thursday's Class 3A, District 10 semifinal, Pasco's Matt Smith took matters into his own hands.
Wesley Chapel, which two weeks ago beat the Pirates for the first time in the Wildcats' four-year history, threatened to end Pasco's season.
"You can't lose the last game of your senior year to Wesley Chapel," Smith said.
That explanation came after Smith belted a pair of two-run homers and pitched five innings of one-run relief in Pasco's 12-4 win at John F. Clements Field.
Smith's first homer, an opposite-field shot over the rightfield fence, gave the Pirates a 4-3 lead and highlighted their five-run fourth.
"That first one, that was awesome. That's one I'll never forget," said Smith, who also doubled, drove in four runs and scored three.
On the mound, Smith scattered four hits, walked six, struck out six and was helped by two double plays to improve to 7-2.
Matt Prowant also homered for Pasco, which plays Mulberry in the district final at 7:30 tonight. The Panthers defeated defending district champions Bartow 7-6 in nine innings in the other semifinal.
The Pirates (17-7) rallied from a three-run deficit to score nine unanswered runs from the third through the fifth. Pasco had 10 hits.
Prowant had three RBIs, Sonny Glover and Prowant each had two-run singles and Joey Harper hit a two-run double.
"I knew if we could kind of keep it close we could come back and get some runs," Pirates coach Ricky Giles said. "I figured if we couldn't get three or four, we didn't deserve it anyway."
The Wildcats (9-16), who left 11 runners stranded, took a 3-0 lead in the top of the second. Patrick Cushman and losing pitcher Donald Chapin walked, and both scored on Garret Gaudens' two-run double. Gaudens came in on Kris Quinones' run-scoring single.
Quinones drove in Wesley Chapel's run in the sixth with a double that scored Matt Condor.
- STEVE LEE
Bears lose to East Ridge
LEESBURG - Central pitcher Josh Smith allowed only two runs on three hits and struck out six but got little help as the Bears lost 2-1 to East Ridge in the first round. "We knew it would be tight coming in," Bears coach Gary Buel said. "They just got the hits when they needed them."
East Ridge (14-12) won in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI groundout by Adam Crowe that scored Myles Riddle, who singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch and moved to third on a fielder's choice.
East Ridge also scored in the first. Smith hit Riddle with a pitch, Riddle advanced to second on a fielder's choice and one out later pitcher and clean-up hitter Buddy Glass lined a fastball to leftfield for an RBI single.
Central (18-9) tied it in the fifth. An error by Crowe on a ball hit by Smith and a walk to Kevin Brennan put runners on first and second with nobody out. After Arnold Mendoza sacrificed the runners over and DH Steve Ramirez popped up, Jimmy Goodworth's liner to right-centerfield scored Smith. Buel waved Brennan home but he was out with a perfect strike from Knights centerfielder Justin Franz, leaving the score tied at 1.
Glass gave up three hits and struck out seven.
"Our kids battled, but you've got to give their team credit," Buel said. "Sometimes the baseball gods aren't with you."