Prior to heading to Lakeland for the Florida College System Activities Association's state baseball tournament, State College of Florida head coach Tim Hill II stressed how important limiting mistakes and executing the little things in key situations would be to winning games.
That happened Friday against the state's top-ranked team, St. Johns River State College, when the Manatees scored three late runs to edge the Vikings, 3-1, in the first-round at Joker Marchant Stadium.
"That was the difference in the ballgame," Hill said. "I think we scored two runs in the ninth inning, and the ball never left the infield. We got our bunts our down. I think it was a leadoff walk and a wild pitch got him to second. (Taylor) Cockrell laid a nice bunt down third that he beat out and they threw it away, which allowed one run to score. Then we bunted Taylor over to third, and then had a squeeze to get him in."
Riverview's Jared Pruett laid down the squeeze that scored Cockrell.
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The game turned into a duel between SCF's Cockrell and St. Johns River's Dustin Hersey from the beginning.
Cockrell finished with nine strikeouts and no walks, while scattering eight hits and allowing one earned run in eight innings.
Hersey, who is signed to play at Florida State next season, was also difficult to hit. He went seven innings, allowing one earned run off three hits and four walks while fanning eight batters.
Former Manatee High standout Danny Lee went 2-for-4 with a double and a run batted in to lead SCF hitters. The Manatees also received an extra-base hit from catcher John Jones.
After falling behind 1-0 in the seventh inning, the Manatees struck for a run in the top of the eighth inning and two runs in the top of the ninth to secure the victory.
First baseman Brad Zunica, a former Lakewood Ranch star, picked up the save with a scoreless ninth inning.
SCF's victory gives the Manatees a day off on Saturday as they await the winner of second-seeded Chipola and Broward. SCF will play at 7 p.m. Sunday. Right-handed pitcher Frank Grandinette, who was previously at the University of Miami, is slated to start Sunday's game for SCF.
"Going through the loser's bracket is tough," Hill said. "It's been done a few times before, but it's nice to start the tournament off with a win ... have a day off and then we don't play again until Sunday night. We want to stay in that winner's bracket as long as we can."
Broward edged Hillsborough, 8-7, in 10 innings in Friday's second game to set up the meeting with Chipola at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Meanwhile, St. Johns, which is ranked No. 2 in the nation, must navigate the loser's bracket of the double-elimination tournament beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday against Hillsborough.