SARASOTA -- Lakewood Ranch baseball coach Ryan Kennedy could complain about his team's tough luck being in a district with Sarasota.
The Sailors are a perennial power, winning eight state championships and two national titles. This season, they denied the Mustangs their biggest goals.
Sarasota defeated Lakewood Ranch in the district title game and Tuesday night ended the Mustangs' season with a 9-3 victory in a Class 7A-Region 3 semifinal.
Lakewood Ranch finished its season at 18-11 with three losses to Sarasota with the last two coming on the Sailors' field.
But Kennedy, who played on Lakewood Ranch's only state baseball championship team, says he relishes playing Sarasota.
"If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best," he said following the game. "The program has been around a long time. You can't make mistakes against them. You can't give them chances, and we did tonight."
Sarasota (18-11) has a reputation for raising its level of play in the biggest games. The Sailors did that in this one, but got some help from Lakewood Ranch.
Sarasota had not scored more than two runs in the first inning all season, but got six this time and for all intents and purposes ended Lakewood Ranch's season right there, taking a 6-1 lead into the second. The Sailors' starter Nick Long, a junior who normally plays shortstop, pitched his first complete game.
"Nick had only thrown 35 innings coming into tonight, so he was strong and really stepped it up in the sixth and seventh inning," Sarasota head coach Clyde Metcalf said. "He got hurt a little bit when he got the ball up because they are a good hitting team, but he was able to recover and make the outs when we needed to. When we've
been successful we pitch and play defense. Nine runs for us is not the norm. We had scored three runs in each of our playoff games."
The Sailors got their first four batters on base to open the game on an infield single, an error on a bunt, fielder's choice and a hit batter. Then they got three straight singles, the last one driving in two runs.
"To beat a team like Sarasota, you have to jump on them early and often, and they did a great job of putting the ball in play and finding holes," Kennedy said. "That is baseball, and it's unfortunate. You have to continue to scratch runs, and once you can do that you set the tone. Them scoring six runs in the first inning kind of deflated our sails. They take advantage of mistakes and you have to play flawless baseball to beat a team like that. But I couldn't be more proud of our players the way they continued to battle."
Lakewood Ranch took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Cameron Pearcey opened the game with an infield single and scored on single by Shane Zipperer.
Sarasota increased its lead to 7-1. Lakewood Ranch got a run in the fourth when Connor Hetterich reached on an infield single and scored on an error. The Mustangs picked up their final run in the fifth when Zipperer got a single for his third hit and scored on a double by Justin Fischer. Long then retired the last eight batters of the game.
"We continued to get better throughout the year and for the most part our defense was solid," Kennedy said. "We lose about eight or nine starters depending on who you count, so this was a big heavy senior class. Our third baseman (Hetterich) is a junior, and Justin Fischer (starting right fielder) is a junior. Our starting pitcher tonight Colton Zimring is a sophomore. We have some younger guys who hopefully will step up next season."