The win gave the Longhorns their first-ever Saladino championship and continued the best start in the program’s history. (Photo courtesy of the Lennard High School baseball program.)

Lennard High School claimed the Saladino Silver Division Tournament in mid-March, keeping its perfect 9-0 record intact. The win gave the Longhorns their first-ever Saladino championship and continued the best start in the program’s history.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, with the score tied 8-8 after a seven-run comeback by Robinson, junior shortstop Alex Brazer led off the inning with a hit-by-pitch and a steal of second. He later scored the go-ahead run to start a two-run rally that Lennard needed. In the final inning, he caught the last out of the game on a line-drive with pitcher John Smith on the mound, preserving the 10-8 victory over Robinson High School.

“It felt great,” said Brazer. “I actually caught the last out, and it was really indescribable; I joined the dogpile, and we all were extremely excited. The win means a lot to me and the guys but also this program. It’s serious when the principal joins us to celebrate with the team. To me, it shows that all the work I’ve put in is well worth it and to keep going, and for the team it just shows what we can do when we work as one.”

Head Coach Victor Martinez has led his team to a quick turnaround in just two years at the helm. The Ruskin native has been with the team as an assistant since 2007 before taking over as head coach in 2021. Last season, Lennard finished with a record of 9-13. This season, the Longhorns have already matched their win total from 2021 and are off to their best start in their school’s history with a perfect 9-0 record.

Martinez, a former East Bay shortstop, remembers fondly competing in the tournament as a player under mentor and longtime Hillsborough County baseball coach Bill Leiby.

“It was a good feeling,” said Martinez. “It was one of those things where we thought we could make a deep run, but obviously that last out there were a lot of emotions, especially growing up in Hillsborough County and playing in the event. It was definitely pretty sweet to win it as a coach.”

Senior first baseman Keith McClain, who leads the team with a .458 batting average, loves his team’s resiliency and work ethic.

“My favorite part about being a part of this team is simply being around individuals that always want to be better,” said McClain. “We, as a team, constantly push each other every day, and I think this is what is helping us play at the standard that we strive to be and hold ourselves to.”

Martinez is excited about the buzz his team has created in the Ruskin community.

“I think it’s good for the town of Ruskin to have a team doing as well as we are, and the support of the community has been really good,” he said. “The boys really look forward to playing at home with the fans there. It definitely helps out playing at home with the excitement of the people around the town coming to watch baseball.”

Brazer, McClain, Martinez and the rest of the Longhorns aren’t just satisfied with this victory, they want to continue their winning ways throughout the season and make a playoff run.

“The goal is to play as hard as we can every game and to win a district championship,” said Brazer. “It would be great to be the team that goes the furthest in the playoffs in Lennard history. This is a special group we have in Ruskin, and this is just the beginning.”

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Nick Nahas has written for the Osprey Observer since 2016. He has lived in the Valrico area since 2002 and has his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. He is dedicated to covering sports in Hillsborough County at every level.