Mirza spots Fernandez early lead as Gaither drop Bulls

Gaither senior Michael Fernandez (center in blue jacket) is fired up, greeting teammate Jackson Mirza (No. 11) after the junior sent the first pitch of the game out for a homer to center. 

By Jarrett Guthrie, Editor

VALRICO – Last year Gaither’s Michael Fernandez had a forgettable final regular season start, getting stampeded by the Bulls offense to the tune of six runs, as host Bloomingdale fed the then-junior his only loss of an exceptional, 10-1 season.

Thursday, Fernandez again ascended the bump at KB Scull Field and quickly went to work, erasing that memory as the senior lefty tossed a complete-game, one-hitter and the Cowboys took home a 7-0 win.

“This was a game he wanted,” Gaither coach Nelson North said. “Last year they 10-run-ruled us, and I think there was something to that, but he’s a very confident kid.”

Michael Fernandez delivers a pitch in his complete-game effort, finishing with nine strikeouts and just one hit to improve to 2-0 on the season. 

From his perspective, last year’s visit wasn’t going to change his approach and have him trying to do too much.

“I really didn’t try and come in with a vengeance,” Fernandez said. “I just tried to just play my game, pitch well, get in and out.”

We’ve got more shots from this game: click here.

Offensively, the tone was set quickly – first-pitch quickly – as junior Jackson Mirza connected on the opening toss low in the zone and sent it out and over the wall in center.

“First-pitch home run and he’s just worked really hard,” North said. “Jackson was pressing in some of the early games, his first game against Newsome (a 9-0 win on opening night) he had some great at-bats. But then started to press and pull his head a little bit.

“He worked really hard this week, had some good BPs, and I’m really proud of him.”

Mirza kept his head down crushing his game-starting homer. 

From there, Fernandez took the early lead and went to work.

“I think that (Mirza’s home run) definitely set the tone for the rest of the game,” Fernandez said. “They were on their toes the whole game, but we were able to keep them from scoring.”

Early on the Miami-signed pitcher wasn’t as sharp as he’d been in his previous two outings, his breaking ball staying up in the zone and the Bulls attacking his fastball. But the Cowboys defense was steady and made plays behind him.

Bloomingdale (2-2) got two aboard in the second, a walk drawn by Matt Cleveland and a Luke Rossi single, but Fernandez nipped that quickly with an inning-ending strikeout. A leadoff walk in the third was erased on a hard throw from catcher Ryder Warriner to catch the runner trying to steal second.

Bloomingdale starting pitcher Hayden Porter.

The walks that would hurt a pitcher would belong to Bulls starter Hayden Porter, who issued a pair of free passes, before David Pina’s RBI sac fly and an SJ Branham single up the middle extended the Gaither (5-0) lead. Porter would work five innings, allowing three runs on two hits and two walks, with three strikeouts.

Bloomingdale second baseman AJ Cruz (two walks in the game) made some nice defensive plays in the loss. 

Fernandez would get himself in dangerous waters in the fifth walking two more, and a throwing error from Warriner put both Bulls in scoring position. But that seemed to flip a switch as the senior struck out five of the next seven hitters to finish out his complete-game with nine punchouts.

“It was kind of tough getting confident, because that team was definitely swinging the bat,” Fernandez said. “They weren’t missing the fastball. So, the sixth and seventh, I said ‘I gotta get more strikeouts,’ and that was what I was kind of going for.”

Cowboys senior Nico Lopez takes a cut at his RBI triple in the seventh. Lopez was 2-for-3 with a walk, RBI and two runs scored.

Gaither would pad the lead with two runs in both the sixth and seventh inning, with Nico Lopez singling and adding an RBI triple to score Mirza (2-for-3, three runs) across the two innings.

“We joke that Nico Lopez can roll out of bed and hit,” North said. “He gives you a quality at-bat every time, and we’ve come to expect that out of him, so this game wasn’t a surprise.”

David Pina picked up his second RBI of the game with a hard groundball single deep to first and hustling to the bag to beat the flip to plate the final run.

Cowboys junior shortstop David Pina stops a high throw from going into the outfield in the second inning.

Gaither has back-to-back games against Sickles (winners 8-1 at Crest on Thursday) next week, on the road to Citrus Park on Tuesday and Saturday’s Saladino Tournament opener at Lennard.

Bloomingdale hosts Durant on Tuesday, travels to Middleton on Thursday, and opens Saladino play against Wharton from Jefferson High.

Fernandez wears a big smile as he walks toward his charging dugout to celebrate his complete game.

#1 Gaither 7, #10 Bloomingdale 0

G 100|202|2 – |7|6|1
B 000|000|0 – |0|1|0
W – Fernandez (2-0); L – Porter (0-1)
3B – Lopez (G); HR – Mirza (G). Records – G (5-0); B (2-2).