Expectations met: Bloomingdale earns trip to final four

Bloomingdale junior Hayden Porter tosses his glove after his game-ending strikeout and waits on the dogpile from his teammates. The Bulls defeated Sickles, 3-2, and are headed to Fort Myers for Thursday’s FHSAA Class 6A state semifinal. 

Story by Jarrett Guthrie, Editor
Photos by Mike Camunas, Creative Director

CITRUS PARK – A couple of Thursdays ago, Bloomingdale’s baseball players were in shock after dropping a district title game to Palmetto – not knowing if their season was over. Hearing the news a few days later that Bloomingdale had reached the region playoffs brought a sense of calm for the Bulls, with the knowledge that no one on the outside had to have belief – all they needed was to live up to their own expectations.

Eleven days later, those expectations continued to be met, even when the Bulls fell behind a pair of early runs to defending Class 6A state champions Sickles.

Click here for more photos from this game.

Bloomingdale erased the margin in the fourth inning, then pulled ahead with two outs in the top of the seventh and earned a spot in Thursday’s FHSAA state semifinal game from Fort Myers’ Hammond Stadium with a 3-2 victory.

“Don’t call it a Cinderella story,” Bulls senior Cooper Hinson said.

Adding: “We’re playing how we are supposed to be playing.”

In the pivotal seventh inning, two groundouts to second made it appear like it would be a short top half, but Hinson had different plans sending a pop fly to left and cruising into second with a double.

“That at-bat was nothing about me,” Hinson said. “The whole day we were talking about playing for our team, playing for our buddies.”

One pitch later, fellow senior Dawson Rankin sent a fastball into left for a single and Hinson motored around sliding in to give his team the lead.

Bloomingdale senior Cooper Hinson beat a path around the bases to score from second on Dawson Rankin’s RBI single.

While Vinny Dinzeo (23) smile on, Hinson (15) stretches wide after scoring in the seventh to give the Bulls the lead.

“I expected Rankin to do that,” Hinson said. “He’s been my Day 1 since we started here, and I didn’t expect anything less from him. I was ready to run as soon as he put the swing on it.”

Rankin struggled in his early at bats going 0-for-3, with a pair of strikeouts, but said he only had a single thought stepping in for his seventh-inning at bat.

“I was struggling at the beginning of the game, and I couldn’t make anything find the barrel,” Rankin said. “But there, in that last at bat, it was one of those moments where I just said, ‘why not me?’”

Why not, indeed. The now 19-10 Bulls are state semifinal bound, a roller-coaster ride from May 2nd’s 4-2 district final loss to Palmetto.

“We lost the district championship, and I think that really put a hole in all of our hearts, (thinking) alright this is the last game of our season,” junior Hayden Porter said. “But then we got call (in the FHSAA region playoff announcements) and we were back in it.

“(That) was the time where we needed to start, we went to practice, we were relaxed and everything worked out.”

Porter had a pivotal role in making sure things “worked out.”

Bulls senior Johnny De La Rosa delivers a pitch. 

After starting pitcher Johnny De La Rosa gave up a run in each of the first two innings, the Bulls turned to Porter in relief. The junior took to the mound for the third time in seven days, and faced just two over the minimum to earn his sixth win, striking out five and allowing two hits and a walk.

Sickles (22-8), looking to make a third-straight final four appearance, took an early lead as Michael Bynum singled in the home-first and scored on a two-out single from Gryphons’ starting pitcher Brandon Gonzales. The hit looked destined to plate a pair, but Hinson fired a throw into second as Gonzales went in standing and was called out before the second run could cross. Jake Taylor’s RBI sac fly in the second cushioned the lead for Sickles.

Sickles junior starting pitcher Brandon Gonzales. 

On the mound, Gonzales worked around singles from AJ Cruz and Hinson in the second and third, but fell into trouble the next inning sandwiching a pair of walks around a single from Pierce Collins. From there De La Rosa sent a ball to centerfield to sac in a run, and a hit-batter and chased Gonzales from the mound.

Senior Luke Rossi tosses the bat toward his dugout after drawing a walk to tie the game in the fourth inning.

Luke Rossi worked a full-count, bases-loaded walk to tie the game, but Gryphons reliever Nick Hartley (3 2/3 innings, one run, two hits, two walks, two strikeouts) limited the damage and left the bases loaded.

Bulls senior Pierce Collins jumps in celebration after scoring on Luke Rossi’s walk.

Collins was 1-for-4, scoring the game-tying run in the fourth, and said that there was a team consensus after getting the news the Bulls would advance to region play.

“There is no other feeling like this,” the senior said. “… We got together at the end of the season and said, ‘boys, we’ve got to do this for each other. We’re a family.’ And honestly, everyone bought in and that got us going.”

Sickles senior Will Lichtenfels jumps toward the plate scoring a run in the second inning.

With the game tied, Porter picked up a ground out before Will Lichtenfels (1-2, stolen base, run) singled, but the righty was helped out by a 6-4-3 double play to end a four-pitch half-inning.

“Hayden Porter is a dog, man – he’s a beast,” Hinson said. “He’s literally ‘Complete Game’ Hayden Porter, there is nobody better. There is no one I’d rather have out there.”

The Bulls stranded a runner at second in both the fifth and sixth, but Porter said he was focused on doing his job and was confident his team would reward him.

“I knew my team was going to end up scoring runs,” Porter said, “So, (I just had) to go out there and do the best I can. My coaches had confidence and stuck me out there, and I knew my team would make plays … and they did it for me, and we got it done.”

Hayden Porter earned a win in the quarterfinal, a save in the semifinal, and gave Bloomingdale five strong innings to earn the win on the mound in Monday’s region final. 

The Bulls make a return trip to the final four for the first time since claiming the 2021 Class 6A state title, and though just there are 10 seniors on the team – none were on the roster for the championship win four years ago.

“I think the best part about this is that we are all experiencing this (for the first time) together,” Hinson said. “It’s a lot of fun. No one expected us to be here, and we are proving everyone wrong.”

Bloomingdale awaits its opponent for Thursday’s state semifinal, as Gainesville Buchholz faces Oviedo Hagerty in the Region 1 final Tuesday, but the Bulls will play the 10 a.m. game from Fort Myers.

The Bulls dugout waits for the moment to charge onto the field during the final at bat of the game.

⚾ Class 6A-Region 3

Bloomingdale 3, Sickles 2

B 000|000|1 – |3|5|0
S 110|000|0 – |2|4|0
W – Porter (6-4); L – Hartley
2B – Hinson (B). Records – B (19-10); S (22-8).