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Buchholz Races Past Bloomingdale To 6A State Finals

Anthony Wilke slides into third with a triple for the Bobcats, during their big win over the Bloomingdale Bulls in Thursday’s Class 6A state semifinal.

Box Score

As Manager Ron Brooks put it, the Buchholz Bobcats have come to the 2024 state tournament with the freedom of focus. Reaching the Final Four for the first time in program history erased old demons of previous playoff losses, as the Bobcats finally got over the hump in the regional playoffs.

That freedom helped pave the way to a huge, 12-0 victory over the Bloomingdale Bulls in Thursday’s Class 6A state semifinal at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. The Bobcats (24-8) erupted for seven runs in the first inning and never looked back, closing things out after five innings to advance to the state title game for the first time in Buchholz history.

“The regional final was a huge hole for us,” Bobcats Manager Ron Brooks said. “I felt that after the win on Tuesday, you could see the body language and the demeanor and the freedom that they all came down here with. You saw us carry that into this game. The state championship is what our eyes are on now. I think we are in the right head space and understand that we have one more game to go out there and try to win it.”

Buchholz batted around and sent 11 hitters to the plate in the bottom of the first to go up by a touchdown right away. Cooper Collins singled to lead off, Kai So walked, and Nolan Hayse quickly got the scoring started with an RBI single. Joaquin Gardner was hit by a pitch next, and Aiden Kastensmidt stroked a two-RBI double to left to make it 3-0. Blake Brewer followed by plating two more with a double to left, then Anthony Wilke walked and Austin Cardozo slugged another two-RBI double to left field.

“We’re real excited about the way we played today,” Brooks said. “Any time you come out and score seven runs in the first, it relaxes you. I was real impressed with our team and how we handled everything with the weather delay. I was really, really proud of our ball club the way we came out in the first inning. We sure felt good about the way it was going, and it sure carried over throughout the game.”

Joaquin Gardner connects for an RBI double for the Bobcats.

Even with a big lead, it is tough to feel comfortable with so many innings left to go and so many outs still needed to record. But the Bobcats were poised and determined, crisp on defense and on the mound.

“That was the message, that baseball is a crazy game, a funny game, and we cannot take things for granted,” Brooks said. “I’ve been on the flipside on being up a large amount and then all of a sudden you are in a dogfight. We were really impressed with that team and how they hit, and they put some good swings on the baseball today and hit some balls early. I think when you get up like we did, it deflates a little bit. But that was a good ball club we beat today, so I’m real happy with the way we played.”

Five more runs came in the bottom of the third to put things well out of hand. Every hitter got in on the action, as all nine starters reached base to contribute.

“A lot of people were talking about the Batter’s Eye out there, that it helped a lot,” Gardner said. “I feel like everybody could see everything. It just takes a lot of pressure off of us, especially on defense.”

The Bobcats played relatively pressure-free throughout. They held the Bulls (19-11) to just two hits while pitching to contact with the lead, and the defense only committed one error while recording 18 outs on balls put in play.

“We’re playing with a lot of confidence on defense, so it is fun to watch that too,” Brooks said.

That stellar defense rang true to the final out. Shortstop Cooper Collins dove out to snare a screamer, then fired to the first baseman Wilke, who used all of his length for a Major-League caliber stretch to secure the throw and stay on the bag to record that final crucial out.

“It was pretty cool,” Wilke said. “I saw Coop make that awesome play in the hole at first, and I thought it was a hit and was running back to the bag, and I saw Coop gunning to throw the ball. I just reached over there and snagged it with my long body and was pretty excited. When you are up 12-0 it is a little bit different, because you are kind of expecting to win at that point, but winning the semifinal game to go the state championship is pretty awesome.”

Every offensive starter reached base to contribute in the win, led by Noah Hayse, who was 3-for-3 with three RBI and a run.

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