By Bob Bellone
Senior Staff Writer
VALRICO – Bloomingdale fans patiently waited as the Gaither team bus crept through a rush-hour mess that delayed the start of their Class 6A-Region 3 quarterfinal Friday night by 43 minutes.
Seemingly longer was the third inning, when both teams created traffic on the basepaths – each having four players circle the bases – en route to a 7-4 triumph for the host Bulls.
Bloomingdale (20-6) jumped to a 1-0 lead in the first. Drake Harman drew a leadoff walk, advanced on a passed ball and scored on a one-out single by Colby Shelton.
Along came the third, when the Cowboys struck first.
C.J. Hanson and Miguel Pina singled with one out, and A.J. Graham walked to fill the bases. Frank Perez emptied them, slicing the ball just past first base for a triple to the right-field corner.
“I barreled it up and it went in the perfect spot,” said Perez, who crossed with the final Gaither run on a two-out single by fellow senior Nicolas DiMillo.
Suddenly down 4-1, the Bulls immediately went about regaining the lead. Harman and Gabe Garrett singled with one out, and Shelton reached on an outfield error that brought Harman home. Marlon Bowen stepped in next and promptly redirected a Colin Jackson slider over the left-field fence to make it 5-4.
“Coach told us to give everything we’ve got for one inning and try to chip away at them,” Bowen said. “We just got it done. A little exciting.”
Said Jackson, who went the distance in his prep finale: “I felt like I made a good pitch. He made a great swing.”
Gaither (13-12) had its share of scoring opportunities, stranding runners in scoring position five times. Its last chance came in the seventh, when relief pitcher Jack Owens walked the bases loaded with one out.
Bloomingdale coach Kris Wilken turned the ball over to Trey Wilson, who secured the victory for Owens – who didn’t allow a run after taking over for starter Davis Eckaus in the third – and a home date with Mitchell (22-6) in Wednesday’s region semifinal.
“It’s awesome,” Wilson said. “It’s cool to see this team come this far.”
⚾ 6A-Region 3 Quarterfinal ⚾
G 004|000|0 – |4|6|2
B 104|011|x – |7|9|2
W – Owens (7-2); L – Jackson (7-1); S – Wilson (5)
3B – Perez (G); Da. Harman (B); HR – Bowen(B). Records – G (13-12); B (20-6).