Strawberry Crest junior Joey Parrillo connects on his third inning solo shot over the high wall in centerfield to get things started for the Chargers as the team captured the first district title by defeating Wharton.

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TAMPA – At first glance there is the clay-crusted uniforms before the first-pitch is even thrown, patchwork beards and hair that would make the original Bad News Bears look clean-cut by comparison up and down the Strawberry Crest lineup. But on the field, the Chargers have grown game-by-game this season, behind top-to-bottom production, solid defense and contagious hitting that saw Strawberry Crest close the regular season on an 11-3 run.

Thursday night was another grit and guts performance as the Chargers got solid work on the mound from starting pitcher Kade Manderscheid, steady hitting and a big inning to claim the Class 8A-District 4 championship – the program’s first district title – by defeating Wharton 7-3.

“This moment means everything to us,” Manderscheid said. “The last month, all any of us could think about was this moment. We just thought game time, game time, when is it going to come. And tonight it came and we did it.”

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Manderscheid, a junior righty, wasn’t dazzling but efficient, happy to let his defense do the work behind him, and tossing four 1-2-3 innings in his 6 2/3 innings on the mound.

“I go out there thinking I have the best defensive team in this county so I just have to throw it in there and let them hit it,” Manderscheid said. “My team does the rest. They don’t let me down.”

Chargers starting pitcher Kade Manderscheid earned the win on the mound tossing 6 2/3 innings and allowing three runs.

In support the offense got on the board in the third inning as junior Joey Parrillo put a charge on a ball and sent a home run over the elevated fence in centerfield for the first run.

“It felt great off the bat, but I didn’t know so I hustled my way to second,” Parrillo said. “But once I heard everybody cheering, I just started jogging and enjoying that.”

“I’ve been on the losing side of a championship game, and I was going to do everything in my power not to do that again.”

Wharton junior Brian Baughman comes up excited after
his RBI double in the third inning.

Wharton answered in the bottom half, as junior Brian Baughman doubled in Ricky Villoria to tie the game.

The lead shifted back to the Chargers the next inning as Parrillo picked up his second RBI on a sac fly and Tanner Kelley followed with an RBI single (his third hit of the game) in the next at-bat.

“We were ready to play for each other, paly for that man beside each of us,” Kelley said. “A lot of hard work went paid off tonight, this was a big team win.”

Wharton (16-8) cut the lead with another RBI double, this time off the bat of Dylan McDonald, but the next half-inning spelled disaster for the Wildcats.

Strawberry Crest (16-8) started the fifth with singles from Ryan Dell, Damien Torres and Benny Pues (scoring Dell) as the first seven hitters reached base in the frame. Alex Mussenden drove in a run on a bunt, and reached second on the first Wildcats error of the inning. A few plays later, Mussenden and Jacob Heath scored on a botched pickle play that instead of ending in a runner caught off third base resulted in two runs as Wharton threw the ball away.

Manderscheid was steady for the next two innings adding six straight outs, but Wharton is a perennial force once the post-season rolls around and the Wildcats battled to the last second.

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Wharton scratched out a run in the as Steven Hotinski drove in Zach Ehrhard on a ground out, and the Wildcats chased Manderscheid from the game. Damien Torres moved from third base to the mound and Wharton loaded the bases as Baughman added his second hit of the game.

“Everybody in the dugout was just ready to charge the field and celebrate,” Chargers head coach Eric Beattie, who launched the program when the school opened in 2009, said. “But that last inning we were a little nervous, knowing the caliber of Wharton, knowing the fight they have that they wouldn’t ever give up. We were nervous until the last ball was thrown.”

But Torres got the groundball he needed to the Chargers sure-handed shortstop Dell who made the smooth throw to end the game.

“When I saw who it was going to and the confidence we have in Dell to do what it takes in a big situation,” Beattie said, “I was finally relieved when I saw the direction it was headed.”

Wharton will travel to Ocala next Tuesday to face the Class 8A-District 3 champions Forest, while the Chargers will host the 8A-3 runner-up Gainesville Buchholz in region quarterfinal play.

2018 Class 8A-District 4 Champions – Strawberry Crest Chargers