Counts, Bird lead Longhorns win over Cowboys

Lennard leadoff batter Mattie Counts (12) gets emotional after his second double of the game. Counts  went 2-for-4 in the win, upping his team-leading average to .408, and now has six doubles. 

By Chuck Frye, Senior Staff Writer

TAMPA – For teams with ambitions to play into May, the late stages of the regular season are gut-check time. On Friday night, Lennard showed that it’s up for the challenge.

From explosive work from Mattie Counts and an opportunistic offense, to determined starting pitching from Zack Bird and some timely defense, the visiting Longhorns produced when it counted to wrestle away a hard-earned 3-2 victory from 813Preps No. 2 Gaither.

“The kids have been working hard,” said Lennard head coach Victor Martinez. “They know the season is coming to an end and it’s been a tough schedule, but they’re battling and getting through it.”

After beating the tag of Gaither second baseman Angel Hernandez (6), Lennard DH R.J. Torres shouts toward his teammates to celebrate his first-inning RBI double.

Thanks to the early power of Counts, the ‘Horns (11-9) took a lead in the top of the first inning and never relinquished it. The senior led off the game with a double up the left-centerfield gap then scored on DH R.J. Torres’ two-bagger down the leftfield line. With one out in the third, Counts drilled another double, this time to right-centerfield, then hustled home when Rowland Ruiz Jr. lined a hit-and-run single to left for a two-run advantage.

For a few more photos click here.

“Mattie’s the leadoff hitter you want,” Martinez said of USF-signed Counts, who has gotten on base eight times and scored six runs in three victories this week. “Beyond the doubles, he’s always finding ways to get on base and then he’s aggressive on the bases. He sets the tone for the team.”

Lennard lefty Zack Bird battled through five innings on the hill, scattering four hits and allowing a lone run.

Bird shook off some early control issues to hold Gaither (14-6) at bay, stranding Josh Choe (single and stolen base) in the first, and Ryder Warriner (double) in the second.

“Usually when I’m behind in the count, I believe in my off-speed pitch,” said Bird, who worked five innings of four-hit ball, striking out four, walking four and committing a balk. “Most hitters are looking straight fastball, but I go off-speed, off-speed, off-speed until I get even.”

Gaither junior Ryder Warriner celebrates his second-inning double.

The senior lefty finally yielded a lone run in the third inning via Choe’s second hit of the game that plated leadoff man Jackson Mirza (single) before settling in to retire six of the last seven batters he faced.

“Zack knew coming into the season that he’d have to have a good year for us,” Martinez said. “As a freshman, he never shied away from getting the ball. It’s been special to watch how he’s grown in his four years.”

Gaither centerfielder Jackson Mirza drifts back to track down R.J. Torres’ deep third-inning fly ball.

Bird picked up valuable support from battery mate Johnathan Bryant, who threw out two Cowboys trying to steal, as well as a pair of sophomore infielders at a key moment of the contest. With a run in and Gaither runners at second and third, third baseman Ruiz slid to his left to snag a ball targeted for the shortstop hole. Ruiz popped up and fired a low throw across the diamond, but first baseman Talan Miranda was up to the task, digging out the ball to end the inning.

“We played with a lot of pride,” Bird said. “We knew we could get (Gaither).”

Lennard’s Sebastian Rojas (2) throws to first for a out that ends the second inning.

And as the Lennard defense shined, an errant Cowboy throw in the fifth inning set the stage for a huge insurance run as Torres’ single delivered Sebastian Rojas.

“We made a crucial error, but that’s baseball,” said Gaither head coach Nelson North. “We may have taken too many two-strike pitches but for the most part I was happy with our at-bats. I trust them, we’ll be OK.”

Gaither shortstop David Pina (24) takes to the air to retire a Lennard batter in the second inning as third baseman Nicolas Lopez looks on.

The Cowboys did dent the Longhorns’ bullpen for a sixth-inning run when David Pena came home on a bases-loaded wild pitch, but sophomore J.V. Brennick shut the door from there like he did in Lennard’s 8-0 Saladino Tourney win against Gaither, retiring the last five batters he faced.

“J.V. Is someone that works hard and is building up his confidence,” Martinez said. “He’s learning on the fly.

Cowboys starter Anthony Linares allowed two runs and four hits in his three innings of work.

“The majority of these kids were playing JV last year and they’ve had to mature quickly,” Martinez concluded. “After Saladino’s busy schedule and our strength of schedule afterward, we talked to the kids about taking things one game at a time, controlling what we can control, being big on our routine, and trying hard to have another great week.”

Lennard’s rugged, three-game final week of the season starts Tuesday at home against Strawberry Crest, while Gaither also next plays on Tuesday, hosting Riverview.

With infielders Rowland Ruiz, Sebastian Rojas, Peyton Newman, and Talan Miranda looking on, sophomore reliever J.V. Brennick warms up. Brennick threw two scoreless innings in the victory, retiring the last five batters he faced.

Lennard 3, #2 Gaither 2

L  101|010|0 – |3|6|0
G 001|001|0 – |2|5|1
W – Bird (0-0); L – Linares (0-0); S – Brevick (0)
2B – Counts 2, Torres (L); Warriner (G). Records – L (11-9); G (14-6).

Lennard senior Zack Bird (3) gets a fist bump from catcher Johnathan Bryant (24) after stranding two Gaither runners in scoring position and preserve the Longhorns’ lead after three innings.