DOVER — It doesn’t matter to Strawberry Crest coach Eric Beattie that his team has dominated the series against Wiregrass Ranch.
He knows his Chargers will have their hands full whenever they face the Bulls.
For the seventh consecutive time in the past two years, Strawberry Crest defeated Wiregrass Ranch 1-0 Saturday with a first-inning run — ensuring the Chargers will be playing for their second straight Class 8A region championship.
Strawberry Crest (17-10), which lost to Sarasota 5-2 in the 2018 state semifinals, will host Tallahassee Chiles, a 10-6 winner against Jacksonville Atlantic Coast, on Wednesday.
“When I see Wiregrass on the schedule, I don’t have a good feeling,” Beattie said. “I think off the top of my head that of those seven straight times we’ve beat them, six of them they had the tying run on base in the last two innings. Wiregrass competes its butt off. Hats off to them. . . . They’re a great team.”
Wiregrass Ranch (15-11) dropped to 2-11 in its all-time series against Strawberry Crest since 2014, and was denied its first region final since 2013 (a 6-0 loss to eventual state champion Venice).
“We’re excited (to advance),” Beattie said. “I think we knew we had a team that was capable of being here. But it comes down to playing good baseball to do it, and the guys are doing it. It’s definitely been a team effort.”
Strawberry Crest, which defeated Wiregrass Ranch in all four meetings this year ― including an 8-0 win for the district championship ― was held to two singles by Wiregrass Ranch sophomore pitcher Robert Boser, who pitched hitless ball after the second.
The first hit, a one-out single to right by Ben Pues in the first, scored Tanner Kelley from second for the only run. Kelley had walked and moved into scoring position on a Ryan Dell walk.
Strawberry Crest starter and winner Alex Marshall and Kade Manderscheid preserved the lead with a combined three-hitter, and the Chargers' defense frustrated Wiregrass Ranch.
The Bulls had three runners thrown out on the base paths, including one each by Marshall and Manderscheid. But it was Strawberry Crest catcher Joey Parrillo who argubly came up with the biggest defensive play.
Derek Baker led off the fifth with a single for Wiregrass Ranch, but he strayed too far off first with Noah Johnson at bat, and Parrillo's throw to first baseman Kelley disposed of the Bull base runner.
Marshall walked the next two batters, Johnson and Mitch Ferrera, and was replaced by Manderscheid. After an outfield flyout, Luke Weber drew a walk to load the bases. The threat ended when Paul Sustachek grounded out to second.
Manderscheid then picked a Bull off second to end the sixth, and struck out the side in the seventh for the save.
“We won the first inning, and we made the pitches and played the defense when we needed to,” Beattie said. "Our timely defense was huge.
“Our guys have really bought ino it, and (throwing out base runners) has been a big part of our defense for a while. The easiest out doesn’t necessarily have to be standing in the batter’s box all the time, and that’s something we preach.”
The last time Wiregrass Ranch defeated Strawberry Crest was on April 4, 2017, when the Bulls scored twice in the seventh for a 10-8 win.
“It comes down to execution,” Wiregrass Ranch coach Marshall McDougall said. "(Strawberry Crest) is a well-coached team. . . . They’re experienced. We talked about it before the game that it was going to come down to who executes. They always do well against us and execute. It seemed like every small thing or close pitch went their way.
“I can’t give (Boser) enough credit. He threw fantastic for being a sophomore.”
Games at 7 p.m. Wednesday
8A: Plant City at Seminole
8A: Tallahassee Chiles at Strawberry Crest
7A: Osceola at Venice
7A: Viera at Leto
6A: Cape Coral Mariner at Dunedin
6A: Dunnellon at Jesuit
5A: Melbourne CC at Lakewood