Brito School senior Savian Fernandez was rightfully nervous as he stepped to the plate in the top of the 11th inning with one out Tuesday night.
Fernandez had gone hitless in his first five at-bats, and he followed slugger Marco Bolano, who had two doubles before he was intentionally walked in the 11th ahead of Fernandez.
But Fernandez put his apprehension to rest when he ripped a first-pitch double to right center field, knocking in the two go-ahead runs as the visiting Panthers went on to score four more runs in a six-run inning en route to a 10-4 victory over Zion Lutheran in Tuesday's Class 2A regional final.
Tied at 4 in the top of the 11th inning, Brito exploded for six runs starting with Fernandez’s hit.
“I struggled all game long at the plate and I was nervous when when I came to bat,” Fernandez admitted. “Before I came up, coach [Pedro Guerra] told me, ‘Get out there and be aggressive.’ That's all I thought about.”
Fernandez came home following Onelio Perdomo’s three-run triple and Brian Jimenez capped the big inning with an RBI single to put the game out of reach and lift the Panthers (19-8) into the state final four in Fort Myers.
Julio Gonzalez, the starting shortstop, earned the victory in relief in his first appearance on the mound as he kept Zion Lutheran scoreless in the last four innings.
Jose Rodriguez (2-1), the Lions starting shortstop, kept Brito scoreless for five innings before facing 11 batters in the deciding inning.
Zion Lutheran (16-10-1) trailed 4-1 before rallying for three runs in the fifth to set up the extra inning. The Lions benefited from three errors committed by Brito in that inning. Ivan Ortiz (2 for 4) capped the scoring with an RBI single to tie the score at 4.
“This was like a tennis match in a tiebreaker,” said Zion Lutheran coach Ray Ayala, whose team overcame an 0-6-1 stretch during the season. “Each team was holding serve, and it was a matter of time before someone cracked. Unfortunately it was us.”
Brito will face the winner of the game between Monticello Aucilla Christian and Deltona Trinity Christian this weekend.
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