Dinzeo homer ices Bloomingdale win at East Lake

Vinny Dinzeo reached four times, and finished a triple short of the cycle with four RBI leading Bloomingdale to an 11-7 region semifinal win at East Lake. Dinzeo (23) taps helmets with teammates (left to right) Dawson Rankin, Pierce Collins, and Cooper Hinson after his game-clinching three-run homer against host East Lake

By Chuck Frye, Senior Staff Writer

TARPON SPRINGS – Who knew Cinderella had a heart this big?

Nothing – absolutely nothing – was going to stop Bloomingdale on its march to the Class 6A Region 3 title game. Not a relentlessly confident East Lake offense, not its calling-card stingy pitching staff, not even some lax mid-game defense from the visiting Bulls. The fifth-seeded Bulls jumped out to a quick first-inning lead Friday against its top-seeded host, refused to fold against an inevitable comeback, then put the hammer down behind catcher Vinny Dinzeo and closer Hayden Porter to walk away from the near-three-hour battle with an 11-7 victory.

“We just applied pressure. That’s been our motto (Friday) and in all our playoff games,” Dinzeo said “It’s been working out and we’re going to roll with it.”

Bloomingdale courtesy runner Derrick Rusch eludes the tag of East Lake shortstop Daniel Spicher (1) for a first-inning stolen base.

Dinzeo was a one-man pressure cooker himself, deftly managing a quartet of Bloomingdale hurlers from behind the plate, while coming within a triple of a cycle with his bat, driving in four runs and scoring four times.

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“I was picking up the ball really early out of the pitcher’s hand,” the junior said of his offensive successes. “All of my work at practice, every day taking early hitting after school … Coach (Kris) Wilken helps me work on my swing day-in and day-out and it’s given me a lot of confidence. Plus, it’s 100-percent not just me up at the plate. My teammates all have my back and I have theirs.”

Bloomingdale head coach Kris Wilken chats with Matt Cleveland during a sixth-inning timeout. Cleveland doubled and singled twice in the Bulls’ regional semifinal victory.

“Vinny is so special to this team,” Wilken said. “I don’t know where we’d be without him. He’s so mentally tough and he plays with a ton of guts. I really respect how he plays the game.”

Dinzeo powered the offense right from his first at-bat, lining a single over the shortstop to score Coop Hinson, who had doubled to the base of the left-centerfield fence.

Bloomingdale junior Vinny Dinzeo was a force in a regional semifinal upset of East Lake, getting three hits including a double and a home run while driving in four runs.

He followed that with a two-bagger of his own to start the third inning, moving to third on a wild pitch and scoring on a Pierce Collins sacrifice fly.

And in between, the Bulls (18-10) added another first-inning tally on a throwing error and two more in the second when an outfield error plated Matt Cleveland (double) and Luke Rossi (misplayed single).

East Lake catcher Trey Babbitt focuses to pull in a first-inning foul popup near the plate.

But none of that fazed the host Eagles (25-4).

East Lake answered Bloomingdale’s hot start with two first-inning runs of its own when Andrew Sheffield (double) scored on an infield out and Braden Post’s bases-loaded walk delivered courtesy runner Milan Verma (catcher Trey Babbitt reached on an error).

Then Dylan Taft’s third-inning RBI single set the stage for the Eagles to explode for four runs in the fourth inning and take a startling 7-5 lead. Sending nine to the plate, key hits from No. 9 batter Braydon Spink (a double to go with two free passes on the night) and Babbitt (run-scoring single) combined with two crucial miscues lifted East Lake to the lead.

East Lake second baseman Camden Boehm gets down low to snare Brady Wright’s throw after a first-inning sacrifice bunt.

Refusing to fold, the Bulls re-tied the game in the fifth when ninth hitter Izzy Perez drilled a clutch two-out double to right-centerfield (“A real big knock,” according to Wilken) to send A.J. Cruz (walk) and Johnny De La Rosa (second of three singles) across the plate. And in the bottom half of the inning, reliever Drew Williams dodged a rally of his own creation, loading the bases on a walk and two hit batters before inducing a foul pop out to end the frame.

Bloomingdale’s offense continued to churn in the sixth when De La Rosa roped a hit-and-run single to leftfield that scored courtesy runner Derrick Rusch (in for Dinzeo, who had walked) from second.

Bloomingdale head coach and third base coach Kris Wilken (in red) pumps his fist as Luke Rossi slides past East Lake catcher Trey Babbitt for a second-inning run.

East Lake shortstop Daniel Spicher (1) shows the umpire the ball in vain as Bloomingdale’s Vinny Dinzeo is called safe on a third-inning double.

Finally, in the top of the seventh, Dinzeo delivered the clinching blow. With Hinson (single in his fourth time reaching base) and Dawson Rankin (fielders’ choice) aboard, Dinzeo crushed an East Lake offering far over the rightfield fence.

“I sat dead red on that at-bat,” Dinzeo explained. “(Eagles reliever Jayden Harriel) started off the last three leadoff batters he faced with fastballs. That’s what I was looking for, I got it, and I knew I wasn’t going to miss it.”

In a rare relief appearance, Bloomingdale junior Hayden Porter threw two hitless innings against East Lake, walking two and striking out three.

With momentum on his side, workhorse hurler Porter came in to pitch – a rare relief appearance for the starter, who stayed under 60 pitches in Tuesday’s five-inning region quarterfinal win. But his approach to the late-game entry didn’t change.

“It’s the same mound whether I’m starting or relieving,” Porter said. “I just treat it like I’m starting and work the same. I don’t change anything.”

After sliding to keep a sixth-inning grounder from rolling to the outfield, Bloomingdale second baseman A.J. Cruz rifles to first to retire East Lake’s Braden Post. 

Calling off rightfielder Coop Hinson (left) and first baseman Matt Cleveland (right), Bloomindale second baseman A.J. Cruz ranged into foul territory to catch Camden Boehm’s fifth-inning popup.

Porter did change one thing: East Lake’s oppressive offensive paradigm. For the only time in the game, the Eagles went down 1-2-3 in the sixth thanks to a strikeout and stellar supporting defense from second baseman Cruz, while he interlaced a pair of Ks with two harmless walks to close out the upset victory.

“I started off curveball, then really relied on my fastball,” Porter said. “When I struggled with my off-speed pitches, that’s what I relied on.”

Bloomingdale players rush toward an emotional Hayden Porter (center, 11) who pitched two scoreless innings of relief to lock down the Bulls’  playoff victory.

Despite going four-deep on the bump, Wilken will have all of his arms (save for starter Rankin) available for Monday’s regional final at defending state champion Sickles, a winner over Gaither in a 13-inning instant classic on Friday.

Dawson Rankin was the first of four pitchers to work for Bloomingdale, going three innings and allowing two earned runs on three hits, while striking out a pair.

“Our bats have been red-hot and if they stay that way, we’ll be cruising,” Porter concluded. “Relaxed baseball is what we’ve been focusing on for the past week and it’s been working. We’re all playing for the same goal and that relaxes us.”

Bloomingdale players scale the fence in front of its dugout to celebrate its regional semifinal upset of top-ranked East Lake

Class 6A-Region 3

Bloomingdale 11, East Lake 7

B 221|021|3 – |11|12|1
E 201|400|0 – |7|7|3
W– Williams (4-2); L – Harriel (3-2); S – Porter (1)
2B – Hinson, Perez, Cleveland, Dinzeo (B); Sheffield, Spink (E); HR – Dinzeo (B). Records – B (18-10); E (25-4).

With A.J. Cruz (left) and Coop Hinson (center) looking on, Johnny De La Rosa crosses the plate on Izzy Perez’s two-run double. De La Rosa went 3-for-4 with an RBI in the Bulls’ victory.