Dan PearsonBy: J. Daniel Pearson
For  Positively Osceola

Harmony used a nine-run fourth inning and held off an Osceola rally to defeat the Kowboys 12-9 on Friday night and earn the school a three-game sweep over the Kowboys in the regular season.  Under the new districts this season, the schools can still meet in the post-season when the 7A, District 9 tournament is held in May.

“Extremely pleased with the way we played tonight,” Harmony coach Heath Williams said.  “To beat a quality team like Osceola three times in one season is an achievement.  The game was closer than I felt it should have been, but I’ll put that on me.  I made some bad coaching decisions after we built the big lead and it almost cost us.”

Osceola’s starting pitcher Michelangelo Cruz appeared to be cruising in the game, as he retired eight of the first nine hitters he faced – including six in a row after allowing a first inning walk.  But with two outs and none on in the third, he gave up a single, a walk, a two-run double to Samuel Castillo and an RBI single to Jhon Peralta as the Longhorns grabbed a 3-0 lead.

Harmony Osceola Baseball
Harmony Osceola Baseball
Harmony Osceola Baseball

After the Kowboys got one back in the bottom of the third on Raul Ramirez’s sacrifice fly, Harmony would break the game open in the top of the fourth.  Iziah Santiago opened with a clean single to center before Caden Scarborough and Xavier Gori loaded the bases on back-to-back bunt singles.  Cruz would strikeout Ashton Magorrian, but Hunter Bola laid a perfect bunt down the third baseline for an RBI single.  Yathniel Matos would drive in two with a single, Nate O’Niell would walk and Castillo would drive in two more with a single.  A hit batter and three more hits would follow as Harmony sent 15 to plate and score nine times to build a 12-1 lead.

A single Osceola run cut the gap to 12-2 in the bottom of the fourth, but Harmony was just three outs away in the fifth from registering a 10-run mercy rule win over the Kowboys.  But Osceola would put on a rally of its own.  Despite managing just two singles in the inning, Osceola sent 11 to the plate –using five walks, a double steal, a wild pitch and error to tally six runs of their own and cut the gap to 12-8.

An RBI groundout by Luis Vargas made it a three-run game after six.

Osceola would then get the tying run to the plate when Alejandro Pereira and Terry Cruz opened the bottom of the seventh with back-to-back singles off relief pitcher Ismael Rivera.   Osceola’s leadoff hitter Nick Palmi followed by blistering a hard shot down the third baseline, but freshman Angel Medina made a leaping catch to snatch the ball out of the air and doubled Pereira off of second.  Rivera then struck out Jason Ramos to end the game.

“He (Cruz) was pitching to contact but getting guys out,” Osceola coach Scott Birchler said.  “Really not sure whether he just started to leave the ball out over the middle of the plate or what, but they started hitting the ball hard.  We did a good job of battling back and getting the tying run to the plate, unfortunately for us, their guy made a great play on a ball that Nick (Palmi) absolutely scorched.  The ball gets down the line and it’s a one-run game with the tying run in scoring position and no outs.  Baseball can be a game of inches and today it didn’t work out for us.”

The win, which leveled Harmony’s record at 9-9, was their third of the season against Osceola.  They won 11-2 in early March and then defeated the Kowboys, 5-4, in the Orange Belt Conference Tournament final last week at Poinciana.   Still, the Longhorns found themselves ranked more than 30 spots below Osceola in last week’s FHSAA power rankings.  That could be important as the end of the season, as the power rankings will determine home field advantage for the district tournament.

“We’re pleased that we swept a rival and good team like Osceola,” Williams said.  “Still it is way too early for us to worry about rankings and districts.  We have two weeks remaining in the regular season and our goal will be to finish strong.  Sure if we’re close in records at the end of the season, I would like to think head-to-head might bump us up, but we’re simply not going to think or worry about that.  Right now, I like how our young team has been playing and responding.”

For the contest, Harmony banged out 12 hits.  In addition to the big night from Castillo, Scarborough, Santiago and Matos had two hits each. John Rodriguez had two hits and scored two runs for the Kowboys.

Harmony has a busy week coming up with a home game Tuesday against Eau Gallie and road games against county rivals Tohopekaliga (Thurs.) and St. Cloud (Fri.).  Osceola (10-8) plays Liberty at home on Wednesday before traveling to Palm Harbor next Friday.