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Gaither Earns Its First State Title With 2-1 Win Over Venice

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The Gaither Cowboys overcame a gauntlet as tough as any to reach the promised land of the state tournament at Fort Myer’s jetBlue Park this season. Having played as tough a schedule as any, Gaither proved its resilience and fortitude in surviving every challenge along its tough playoff road to make it to the state championship for the first time in program history.

Facing four-time state champion and perennial powerhouse Venice in Saturday afternoon’s Class 7A state championship, the Cowboys once again proved their mettle. Seven innings were not enough to decide the outcome, and in the eighth inning Gaither grabbed the lead and held it for a 2-1 win that earned the team its first state title ever.

“What a baseball game,” Cowboys manager Nelson North said. “Venice is as good as advertised and it was just a great game for us and for the fans. I feel very fortunate that we are the state champs, because I think it could have been either team. But at the end we got it done, didn’t we?”

Gaither took the lead in the eighth inning on a throwing error. Jose Cardenas rolled a single through the right side for his second hit of the day and Edgar Nunez advanced him to second with a bunt. Kenny Rodriguez put the ball in play and a throwing error allowed Cardenas to round third and put Gaither up for good.

The Indians made one final rally attempt with their final swings against Cowboys reliever Josh Bobrowski. Mitch Donofrio lined a single to left field and Trevor Holloway singled to right field for first and third. Joe Kinker lined a shot deep to center field, but Cardenas was there to haul it in for the final out to clinch the victory and start the celebration.

“I think that was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life,” Bobrowski admitted, after watching the ball leave the bat with the potential to land for a hit that likely would have changed the outcome of the game. “I knew Jose had it when I turned around, but at first I was a little nervous. Then I saw him and I just got extremely excited.”

The historic title also came on a day when Steinbrenner won the 8A title by coming back over Hagerty in a 10-4 win. Steinbrenner manager John Crumbley admitted that the joy of the team’s big night was even sweeter knowing that the team’s nearby neighbors also enjoyed their first state title ever on the same day and on the same field.

“Our schools are only about three miles apart,” Crumbley said. “It’s just great for them and for Coach Nelson North and Coach Jansen and all their guys. It is great for the Tampa community. It’s just a tremendous feeling and these guys will remember this forever.”

With so many quality programs coming out of their backyard, the Cowboys admitted it was an honor to be one of the teams from that region to make it all the way this year. Several other teams from the area also made it to the state tournament this year, and the Cowboys played against them all this season.

“I think Hillsborough County high school baseball is phenomenal,” North said. “It’s really good baseball, and we beat up on each other. You play really good talent.”

Having faced such tough competition all season, Gaither was not intimidated even against a defending state champion. The Cowboys burst out of the gate to seize the lead in the top of the first. Kenny Rodriguez lined a shot down the left field line that ricocheted off the side bleachers to allow him to ease into second base with a stand-up double. Camryn Williams then sent a liner into center field to bring Rodriguez racing around third base to the plate for a 1-0 lead.

The Indians countered back to even it up in the bottom of the third. Rylee Buckmaster singled into the left field corner and then he was replaced on the bases by Kyle Bachle. Tyler Gardner put down a sacrifice bunt that advanced Bachle and two batters later Scott Dubrule sent a liner into shallow right field that allowed Bachle to slide home just ahead of the tag on the play at the plate.

Although both sides had a few scoring chances, the score remained knotted up over the next few frames to send the game into extra innings.

A big reason why Venice was unable to muster much offense had to do with the pitching from Cowboys starter David Musack, who tossed six impressive innings that set the tone on the mound. The right-hander was crafty and efficient with his pitches and he pounded the strike zone for 53 strikes out of his 77 total pitches. Facing a deep and tough lineup, Musack got into his groove midway through his outing and never looked back.

“Not everything was there the first couple of innings for me, and then finally I started getting the outside corner over and over again and both sides of the plate for me,” Musack said. “It just seemed effortless after that, just focusing on the glove after that.”

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