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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Baseball: Nature Coast advances to first region final

BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast senior pitcher Jonathan Gates wasn't the happiest camper when news broke Tuesday evening that the Class 5A region semifinal against Orlando Bishop Moore was being moved to Wednesday night due to inclement weather in the area.

Maybe it worked to the left-hander's advantage, because Gates went ahead and pitched one of the best games of his prep career. The senior ace had his best stuff on display in front of professional scouts and coaches from around the area, as Gates struck out 12 batters, allowed one hit and walked one on 81 pitches thrown in Nature Coast's 3-0 victory over Orlando Bishop Moore.

With the victory over the Hornets, the Sharks ended Bishop Moore's 15-game win streak and sent Nature Coast to the region final for the first time in school history. The Sharks face Santa Fe on Tuesday night.

"This is the farthest we've ever went in (Nature Coast) history," Gates said. "It's huge for us to be moving on. Baseball isn't really a popular thing here and we've brought district titles to Nature Coast three straight years."

The Sharks (25-4) continue to keep rewriting the record books, adding in what becomes another record set by the current group at Nature Coast. Gates' dominance over Bishop Moore (27-4) helped exact revenge over a Hornets' team that defeated the Sharks 2-1 last season in the playoffs. This time around, Nature Coast made sure to give Gates run support early.

Nature Coast was able to knock in a couple runs in the bottom of the first inning off of Bishop Moore starting pitcher Jack McRae when Brandon Riera was able to hit a double, scoring Zack Funkhouser and Jayden Crawford. Those two runs was plenty for Gates to work with, as he blew through the Hornets' lineup every top of the inning.

"That's something we've been doing all year long and that's scoring runs in the first inning," Nature Coast coach Frank Vitale said. "We talked about it as coaches and said if we can get a couple runs on the board early, we will be in good shape."

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