Down 2-0 early, Sharks erupt for 18 unanswered runs to humble Hornets, 18-8

Nature Coast Tech's ,2, Ryan Lotito throws to first during warm ups . Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Nature Coast Technical’s Ryan Lotito throws to first during warm ups . Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Nature Coast Tech's starting pitcher ,7,  . Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Nature Coast Technical’s starting pitcher Brandon Santiago (7) went three innings for Tuesday night’s win in Brooksville. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Nature Coast Tech's Zach Funkhouser launches a hit in the home win over Weeki Wachee. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
NCT’s Zach Funkhouser launches one of his three hits on the night in the 18-8 win over  Weeki Wachee. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

NCT’s Gates, Lotito,

Funkhouser, Frangione

each collect two hits


BROOKSVILLE – Local baseball fans remember last year’s state series when Hernando County set a record with four entries including Weeki Wachee.

The 2016 Hornets, despite the three player defections, and the loss of its best hitter, Jeff Meisner, for more than half the season to injury, still managed to make the regional playoffs after dropping eight painful one-run games.

A year later, one of the US-19 crew’s finest hurlers, Cameron Sereda, hasn’t pitched to one batter due to an arm ailment.

The Hornets walked into home of the 5A-7 champion Nature Coast Technical Sharks searching for its initial win of the season after eight straight losses – including four gut-wrenching one-run setbacks – hitting a collective .202 as a team.

WWHS’ starting right-hander Nick Scarangella deserved a better fate.

Scarangella helped himself rapping a one-out, two-run double down the left-field line in the top of the second inning plating Dalton Mosser and Jackson Zammit off NCT southpaw Brandon Santiago for a possible upset-in-the-making, 2-0 cushion.

But the Sharks (2-1 county, 5-2 overall) countered with seven runs – six unearned – thanks to five hits and two of the Hornets’ game-high four errors in the bottom of the frame, 7-2.

Leaving the faucet on during a frigid evening with the winds gusting ala Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the hosts paraded 16 batters to the plate in the third inning.

Against ineffective relievers Matthew Murphy and Larry McLeod, the Sharks feasted cracking eight hits while plating a season-high 11 runs to effectively bury the Hornets (0-3 county, 0-9 overall) in 4½ innings, 18-8.

Down 18-2 after three innings, Mandes replaced Santiago (1-0) on the bump. Santiago earned the decision in the mercy rule-shortened affair despite struggling with his command of his secondary pitches. He yielded two runs on three hits, walked four and hurled a wild pitch while chalking up one strikeout.

He was assisted by a pitcher’s best friend in the first inning behind a 4-6-3 double play and stranded four runners.

WWHS, however, never tossed in the towel responding four of their eight hits, scoring six runs to smother reliever Kyle Mandes.

Ryan Lotito, the Sharks’ finest reliever last season, faced two batter, retiring both to end the fourth. In the fifth, Lotito retired the Hornets in order for the first time all night.

Offensively, the Sharks carved up the Hornets’ four pitchers for a season-high 14 hits.

Junior All-County choice Zack Funkhouser led all hitters with a 3-for-4 effort, highlighted with two hits and three runs batted in in the wild 11-run third inning.

2016 Hernando County Player of the Year Jonathan “J.P.” Gates, Brandon Frangione and Lotito each contributed two hits.

Gates and Lotito also drove in a game-high four runs.

Dalton Mosser
Dalton Mosser

Seven Sharks including Funkhouser, Lotito, Gates, Frangione, Willie Coffey, Reilly McCarthy and Jaden Rivera each plated two runs for the victors.

Mosser, another 2016 All-County pick, led the visitors with a 2-for-3 effort and scored twice.

Dugout chatter

With the Springstead game being pushed to Wednesday due to Monday night’s rainout, the Sharks admitted they’d have to play much better than they did against the Hornets.

Ryan Lotito
Ryan Lotito

“When we were up 18-2, I think we lost a little bit of our composure,” explained the 17-year-old Lotito. “Give Weeki Wachee credit, they battled till the end.

“I thought we came in fired up and then we had that little letdown after the big lead,” added Lotito. “We have to play much better defensively tomorrow.”

Funkhouser, who arrived hitting .471, certainly didn’t hurt his average.

Zach Funkhouser
Zach Funkhouser

“We swung the bats. In the first few games, we weren’t enjoying things,” revealed Funkhouser, 17. “We definitely know we can’t play like this again tomorrow. We’re not gonna face that type of pitching again with Springstead.

“If we don’t play better, it could be a tough night. I saw the ball real well except during my first at-bat.”

Jonathan Gates
Jonathan Gates

What I took away from this game was we’re trying to hit the fast pitch and really just make their pitchers work,” admitted Gates, 17. “Weeki Wachee is a good team, but we’re gonna see a lot harder pitching tomorrow.

“We’ve got start out with intensity,” added Gates.

NCT’s third-year mentor Frank Vitale was worried prior to the first pitch against the Hornets of a mental letdown.

Frank Vitale
Frank Vitale

“I was worried about that. We got to the field yesterday and we were ready to play.. The kids were looking forward to being on TV. A lot of them have never been,” offered up Vitale. “Weeki Wachee is not a bad team. They’re going through a tough stretch without their best pitcher and they’ve lost some one-run games.

“If I’m in their dugout negative thoughts start creeping in anytime the other team scores, but they’re not a bad team.”

On his team’s biggest positives, “We were down 2-0 and came up with like 5-6 two-out knocks. You can’t put a price on those,” emphasized Vitale. “Coming in, we’d been struggling, so it was nice to score some runs and let everybody play and swing the bat.”

Nature Coast Technical 18, Weeki Wachee 8 (4½ Innings)






























WW – Scarangella, Murphy (3), McLeod (3), Seeman (4) and Moran and Scarangella (3).

NCT– Santiago, Mandes (4), Lotito (4) and Riera.

W – Santiago (1-0). L – Scarangella (0-3).

2B – WW: Mosser, Scarangella, McLeod. NCT: Funkhouser, Gates, Coffey.

Records – Weeki Wachee (0-3 county, 0-9 overall), Nature Coast Technical (2-1 county, 5-2 overall).



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