And did the Patriots pick the right one to win.
Coach Mike Smith’s charges completed an impressive domination of the field on Saturday, rolling past Park Vista from Lake Worth, 4-1, in the Class 6A State Championship Game at the 2008 FHSAA Baseball Finals at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.
Surprise starter Josh Ledford scattered four hits over six innings and first game winner D.J. Hicks came on to hurl a perfect seventh inning for the save as the Patriots completed a 30-4 campaign and in the process ended a 31-game winning streak for the Cobras (31-2), who were ranked No. 2 in the nation by Rivals.com and No. 6 in the nation by USA Today.
Lake Brantley had lost in the finals of The City of Apopka Tournament to Lake Mary early in the season and then lost to Oviedo in the Championship Game of the Class 6A-District 3 Tournament at Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium three weeks ago.
That forced the Patriots to go on the road for the regionals and the locals won when they had to and earned the trip to the Final 4.
Lake Brantley, which came to Sarasota having won just four of its last seven games, was considered a long shot to win its first title since 1997, but the Patriots showed quickly in Friday’s first semifinal that they were intent on bringing the trophy back to Seminole County.
After working out of a mini jam in the top of the first inning, Hicks followed a single by Ted Blackman and a walk to Nick Franklin with a long home run over the wall in right center to put Lake Brantley ahead 3-0 after just three batters against Carlos Mareno, who came into the game with a 9-0 record and a 1.79 ERA.
And it never got any better for Miami-Goleman as the Patriots coasted to an 11-0 victory stopped after the top of the fifth inning by the run rule, ending the Gators’ season at 28-4.
Smith waited until late Saturday to inform Ledford that he would be starting the final, and the lefthander used a shoelace-breaking change up to force Park Vista to pound the ball into the ground, which resulted in three double plays and just one unearned run, over six innings as he ran his record to 6-1 for the season.
The amazing thing about the Patriots’ domination on the mound was that Hicks and Ledford were no better than No. 3 starter on the pitching depth chart when the season began in February.
Lake Brantley’s pitching was supposed to be handled by 6-foot-8 righthander Greg Larson, who was signed with the University of Florida, but had his season ended with a ruptured disk in his back, and lefthander Ryan Markell, who was 4-0 with an 0.61 ERA before injuring his shoulder while playing volleyball on a trip to Key West.
Hicks, in fact, was not even supposed to pitch this season as the UCF signee was slated to strictly play first base and third base because of his hitting prowess.
But the 6-foot-5 righthander quickly adapted to the mound, finishing the season with a 6-0 record and an ERA around 1.75.
Just like in the semifinal, the Patriots grabbed a quick lead to make things a little easier.
Blackman was hit by a pitch leading off the bottom first and moved to second on a single by Franklin.
After a pair of outs, Blackman scored the first run on an infield single by Derrick Shaw.
Ledford then let his defense, and a little happy feet by a Park Vista runner, to keep the lead in the top of the second.
With one out and a runner on third, Lake Brantley second baseman J.T. Warmoth ranged into short rightfield and made an over-the-shoulder grab of a fly ball and then threw to third for a double play when the Cobras runner was ruled to have left to early on appeal.
The top of the order came through for the Patriots again in the third as leadoff batter Blackman ripped a double and then scored when Franklin followed with a double off the rightfield fence to make the score 2-0.
Ledford, who allowed just three hits, but walked four, in six innings, kept the guests off the board by getting a double play ball in the fourth inning.
His offense then gave him a little more insurance in the bottom of the frame when Warmoth scored on a ground rule double by Craig Veach.
Ledford was touched for an unearned run in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly after the only error Lake Brantley made in the game.
But the Patriots responded immediately as Franklin led off the bottom of the fifth with a single and scored two outs later on Shaw’s third double in two days.
Ledford allowed his third hit of the game to begin the sixth, but once-again, he came up with a double play ball to maintain a 4-1 lead.
Smith then went to his new ‘horse’, Hicks, in the top of the seventh and he blew away the first two batters he faced on strike outs before getting a weak grounder down the first base line that he fielded and tagged the runner out himself to end the game and earn his seventh save of the season.
Franklin, a junior shortstop, finished the game 3-for-4 with a double, a run scored and an RBI and was 4-for-6 with a double, a walk, four runs scored and two RBI in the two games.
Shaw, a senior outfielder, was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI was even a little better than Franklin over the two days, finishing 4-for-5 with three doubles and four RBI.
And you can’t forget Blackman, who was the catalyst for the offense at the top of the order as he was 3-for-5, was hit by a pitch twice and scored five runs in the two games, including the first run of each game in the bottom of the first inning.
Smith, who has been at Lake Brantley for 23 seasons and adds this title to the ones won in 1990 and 1997, was assisted by Bryan Smith, John Venters, Chuck Schall and Coury Knowles.
Making up the Patriots roster were seniors _ Ted Blackman, Justin “JT” Warmoth, Joey Peluso, Josh Ledford, Derrick Shaw, Greg Larson, Ryan Markell, Tim Davidson and Dalton “DJ” Hicks; juniors _ Nick Franklin, Torey Roberts, Jordan Ruck, Chris Bauer, Craig Veach, Kyle Hill, Kevin Perry and Blake Tucker; and sophomores _ Matt Mattone, Corey Angelo, Eric Sams, David King, Tyler Krider and C.J. Kelly.