The Buchholz Bobcats had everything going for them heading into Tuesday night’s Region 1-6A final.
The Bobcats were the No. 2 seed, had won eight games in a row, and were at home at Bobcat Park as they played for the first baseball state semifinal in school history.
The No. 8 seed Winter Springs Bears didn’t care about any of that, and ruined Buchholz’s party, scoring two runs in the top of the seventh inning to hold off the Bobcats, 10-8.
Winter Springs (19-9-1) advances to their first state semifinal appearance in school history next Tuesday.
For Buchholz (21-7) it was a disappointing ending to a great season. But the Bobcats didn’t go down without a fight.
Junior outfielder Sam Downey homered well over the left field wall on the first pitch from Buchholz junior pitcher Anthony Wilkie, and the Bears added another run on a Buchholz error for a 2-0 lead.
Buchholz answered, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first to take the lead 3-2. Wilkie, a Clemson commit, drove in two runs with a single to center, and courtesy runner Nick Taylor stole home.
The game stayed 3-2 through the top of the fifth. Wilkie was replaced by junior reliever Conner Brown.
Brown had been solid out of the bullpen for Buchholz, but on this night he allowed four runs on a couple of infield singles and a Bobcats error. The big blow was a three-run homer by FIU commit junior catcher Jacob McKenzie to give Winter Springs a 6-3 advantage.
“He (Wilkie) wasn’t feeling great, and Conner has been great out of the bullpen,” Buchholz coach Ron Brooks said. “Conner is definitely somebody we want on the mound. If we were going at it again in a few days I would put him back out there again.”
Winter Springs extended the lead to 8-3 in the top of the sixth, taking advantage of a Buchholz error to score more runs.
Winter Springs reliever Andrew Lepine had struck out seven batters in the previous three innings, but the Bobcats got to him in the sixth. The first three Bobcat batters reached base on a hit by pitch and back-to-back singles by Cedaris Smith and J.J. Gardner to narrow the lead to 8-4.
The deficit was sliced to 8-6 as pinch-hitter Stuart Ding added an RBI single and Kyle Brewer scored on an error. Two more walks led to an RBI single by Noah Hayse to tie the game at 8-8.
“We felt good about the fight,” Brooks said. “They’ve been fighting all year, and there is no one in that dugout that felt like we were out of it.”
But Winter Springs answered in the top of the seventh, as two walks and a single loaded the bases with one out. After a strikeout by Buchholz reliever Aiden Kastensmidt, Marco Gonzalez hit a single to left field that drove in two runs and a 10-8 lead.
Buchholz went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the seventh and Winter Springs celebrated on the Bobcats home field.
“We would score runs and they (Winter Springs) would come right back,” Brooks said. “Once we scored they scored again. They put pressure on us and we didn’t have that shutdown inning after we scored.
Baseball results – Tuesday, May 17
Class 5A-Region 1 Final
2 Columbia (Lake City) 7, 1 Clay (Green Cove Springs) 1
Class 6A-Region 1 Final
8 Winter Springs 10, 2 Buchholz 8
Wednesday, May 17
Class 1A state semifinals – Hammond Stadium (Fort Myers)
2 Newberry vs. 3 Chipley, 10 a.m.