By Ainslie Lee
Twitter – @ainsliewrites
OCALA – A pair of Wildcat baseball teams squared off in the first round of the Class 8A state playoffs Tuesday night. The Forest Wildcats of Ocala hosted the Tampa area ball club, the Wildcats of Paul R. Wharton High School, in a ‘win or go home’ playoff battle.
It was left fielder Steve Hotinski’s double that got the ball rolling for Wharton.
Accompanied by Forest’s triad of errors in the first inning, Wharton was quick to take control of the contest as the scoreboard showed five runs at the conclusion of their first at bat.
Unfortunately for the home team, Forest wouldn’t dig themselves out of the 5-run deficit. Wharton would go on to secure their spot in the Class 8A Regional Semifinals with an 8-1 victory over Forest (Ocala).
While it looked like Forest was rallying back with the bases loaded in their first at-bat, it wasn’t until the third inning that Forest would put a run on the board. It was a Tyler Waddell double that brought Forest senior Grant Grodi home.
Just as Forest would gain some momentum in front of their home crowd, it seemed Wharton always had the answer to put a damper on the rally.
For Wharton, the guy with all the answers was junior pitcher Brian Baughman. In the second inning, Baughman threw six consecutive strikes and on three occasions pitched a “three-up-three-down” sequence.
Baughman also made plays at the plate hitting a double and a single with an RBI.
While Forest wasn’t able to generate much offense at the hand of Baughman, they were lead by junior first baseman Tyler Waddell, who finished the night with a single, double, and an RBI. Senior shortstop Grand Grodi would also contribute offensively with two base hits.
When asked about stagnant trips to the plate, Forest Head Coach Jed Yancey said he and his staff have preached about “getting their foot down and being on time” when they find their team in a batting drought.
“It kind of shows our youth,” Yancey said of his team, which boasts 11 underclassmen. “A couple of them go up there and do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. They’ll grow up.”
And growing up they will have to do as they say good-bye to three major assets, seniors Grant Grodi, Noah Utegg, and Anthony Ragosta. The senior trio has helped lead Forest to postseason play four years in a row, including a final four appearance their freshman year.
This year, however, Forest’s postseason would end in the opening round of the state playoffs. The ‘home’ Wildcats’ season ends at 18-8, while the visiting Wildcats improved to 17-8.