HCHS

Blake Howard celebrates after leading Hamilton County past Lafayette and into the state playoffs.  

MAYO, Fla. — A 5-19 Hamilton County baseball team is moving on to the state playoffs while Lafayette (15-7) saw its season come to an end.

Anything can happen in the district tournament and a one-game playoff.

Blake Howard got the Trojans going with his bat in Tuesday’s district semifinal and then sealed the win with his arm. He homered in the first inning and came on in relief of his brother Brent Howard to pick up a three-inning save as HCHS earned an improbable 7-5 victory at Lafayette.

“My home run sort of got the momentum going,” said Blake Howard. “It felt good. Thought we played good all-around.”

After Howard’s two-run homer, Jerel Tolle had the next big hit for the Trojans. His bases-loaded single in the third inning brought in two runs. 

Hamilton County led 5-1 after three innings and never gave up the lead.

“I didn’t feel like we came out ready to play,” said Hornets coach Tim Hanson. “They (Hamilton County) got the hits that they needed, good pitching and we made some mistakes.”

“This is very special. I’m so proud of them,” said HCHS coach Chris Howard, whose team will play in the state tournament for the first time since 2015. 

After falling behind early, the Hornets had some success at the plate. Dylan Mock had two hits, Joseph Perry went 2-2 with two RBIs and Jarrett Pearson finished 2-4 with a double and an RBI.

But the Howard brothers pitched their way out of a few jams and got plenty of help from their defense. Brent pitched four innings and allowed four runs on five hits while Blake allowed one earned run in three innings.

With LHS threatening with one out in the bottom of the fifth, Tolle, playing third base, fielded a ground ball and stepped on the bag at third and threw to first base for an inning-ending double play.    

“A huge play,” said Chris Howard. 

In the seventh inning, second baseman Brad Peacock charged a slow ground ball and threw on the run to first base to get the first out of the inning. Two batters later, Adam Perry blooped a fly ball to the outfield that fell just in front of HCHS center fielder DeNandre Johnson. But Johnson reacted quickly and threw to second base to get a force out for the second out of the inning. Blake Howard got the final out of the game with a strikeout on a nice curveball. 

Logan Hughes went 2-3 with a double and an RBI for Hamilton County.  

It was the first time in three tries this season that the Trojans defeated the Hornets. Hamilton County will play Madison County on Thursday for the district title. The game will be played at Lafayette High.


Bulldogs top Wildcats in district tournament 

Bo Bonds pitched a complete-game three hitter, Ryan LeNeave and Kolby Pickles notched multiple hits and the Suwannee Bulldogs defeated the Baker County Wildcats 9-1 on Tuesday in a district semifinal. 

Bonds struck out 10 and won his fifth straight game on the mound. He’s now 8-1 on the season with a 0.82 ERA in 59 2-3 innings pitched. Bonds also homered for his fifth home run of the season.

LeNeave, who has been on a tear of late, went 2-3 with a double and two RBIs. He’s hitting .500 (12-24) over his last eight games. Pickles finished 2-3 with a double and an RBI.

Dalton Croft, Trett Wadford and Marquis Jones had one RBI apiece. 

The Bulldogs will face Bolles on Thursday for the district title. That game will be played at Baker County High. 

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Mike Jones is a sports writer for the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press in North Florida.