By:  J. Daniel Pearson for Positively Osceola

In the end, a hard-hitting Vero Beach team against Harmony’s battered and bruised pitching staff, was too much to overcome as the Longhorns’ 2024 baseball season came to end on ‘Tuesday morning” with a 13-3 loss in the FHSAA Class 7, Region 3 championship game.

“We haven’t made excuses all year, so we won’t start tonight,” Longhorns coach Heath Williams said of his team that finished one game short of a first-ever Final Four appearance at the state championships.  “We had trouble finding the strike zone most of the night and when we fell behind we either issued a walk or they hit the ball hard.”

Of Vero’s 13 runs scored, seven reached base via walk or hit batter.

Although Williams did not want to issue excuses, the fact remains that Harmony entered the game short-handed – especially after an emotionally-draining 10-6 win over top-seeded Jupiter on Friday night.  Harmony played  the game without the services of two starters, as catcher Jose Scrofani was still nursing a hand injury suffered in a regional quarterfinal win over Centennial and Evan Christ – the projected starting pitcher – was scratched for a second consecutive game with shoulder tightness. 

That left Alexavier Lebron to start the game, even though the 6-1 right-hander was still feeling the effects of a broken thumb on his throwing hand – which affected his ability to properly grip the ball.

Still, the Longhorns came out strong, putting runners on first and third with no outs in the second on the strength of back-to-back singles by Isaiah Santiago and Clayton Williams.  Lightning in the area however halted the game for the next two hours and 30 minutes.  When the game finally resumed at 9:40 p.m., an Angel Medina sacrifice fly made it 1-0.  Harmony had a chance to tack on more, but with runners on second and third with just one out, Vero’s Cody Morgan struck out David Arroyo and Ashton Fayne to end the inning.

Vero would counter with a run in the bottom of the second but Harmony would come right back in the third as an RBI double by Samuel Castillo and a run scoring single by Williams pushed the lead to 3-1.

Things would change dramatically in the bottom of the third.  

Finley Holmes led off the inning with a towering home run off of Lebron and although it only cut the deficit to 3-2, all momentum went to the other side.  “Bronny (Lebron) was really having trouble gripping the ball and I probably should not have started him,” Williams said.  “But with Evan out and Ismeal Rivera still hurting with a hip problem, we were sort of out of options.”

Ashton Magorrian would replace Lebron after the home run, but he also ran into trouble early.  Jace Romans would reach on an error, Chase Wilson would deliver an RBI double, with another walk, wild pitch and sacrifice fly plating three more runs to make It a 5-3 game.

Vero Beach would extend the advantage to 7-3 in the fourth – scoring two more runs on just one hit.  An error, a hit batter and two more walks aided that rally.   

The game would come to a halt in the next inning, as the Indians sent nine men to the plate and scored six more runs to end the game with the run-rule.  Three more walks, a pair of two run singles by Ashton Wetmiller and Caleb Wood were the key plays in the inning—with Wood’s game-ending hit coming a few seconds after midnight.

Although he gave up seven hits and three runs, Vero’s Cody Morgan pitched  a complete game and struck out six in running his record to 11-1 on the season.  He did not walk a batter and retired five of the final six batters he faced.

With the win, Vero Beach moves to 24-4 on the season and will face overall top-seed Stoneman Douglass on Friday in a 7A state semifinal game.  Harmony wraps its season with an 18-12 mark –including an Orange Belt Conference and District Championship to its credit.