VERO BEACH — Canterbury is a young, exuberant team that exceeded expectations by advancing to Friday’s Class 2A state semifinal game with a lineup that includes four starters in eighth grade.
The inexperience of playing on such a big stage could have been a hazard, especially when the Crusaders found themselves trailing Academy at the Lakes 3-0 though the first four innings.
If the pressure of starting together, on the road and in front of television cameras, bothered the youngsters, it didn’t show. Canterbury found the emotional reserve to dig deep, scoring a combined 12 runs in two innings to turn what could have been a loss into a 13-3 victory called after six innings because of the mercy rule.
The Crusaders (20-11) will try to win their second state title in three years against Orlando Pine Castle Christian in today’s championship at 11 a.m. Pine Castle advanced with a 19-0 victory over Princeton.
“I’m so pleased with the way this group fought and never gave up,” Canterbury coach Jody Moore said.
The Crusaders were unfazed by falling behind early to a strong opponent because they had been in this situation before. Moore fashioned a schedule that yielded few easy games with nearly two-thirds of the regular-season schedule played in tournaments on the road against teams in higher classifications.
“We played in all those tournaments to be ready if we got to the state tournament,” Moore said. “These girls know this isn’t just a two-inning game. It’s a seven-inning game.”
Still, there were some anxious moments. The Wildcats (12-6), making their first state appearance, had the momentum through the first four innings.
In the first inning, Sydney Boynton hit a two-run double to give AATL a 2-0 lead. In the top of the fourth, the Wildcats added another run on Skyler Boynton’s run-scoring single to make it 3-0.
At that point, Canterbury was unable to generate much on offense and left numerous runners stranded.
“I wanted to cry a little at that point,” senior Savvy Mitchell said.
The Crusaders scored once in the fourth to cut the lead to 3-1.
The turning point, though, came in the fifth inning. Canterbury sent 14 batters up and scored 10 runs. The Crusaders had a few big hits but also showed their resourcefulness by taking advantage of four AATL errors.
Danielle Romanello, one of the starting eighth-graders, had two doubles — in the same inning.
When the fifth inning was over, Canterbury had a commanding 11-3 lead.
The Wildcats never recovered.
“We made a few mistakes in that inning, and it shook us up,” AATL coach Jerry English said.
Added shortstop Lauren Evans: “We just couldn’t get an out.”
In the sixth inning, Canterbury’s Kelsey Hill, a senior, ended the game with a two-run double. Two years ago, Hill scored the winning run in Canterbury’s state title game.
“This feels even better,” Hill said. “Back then, I was just a base runner. Now I get to play every day and help us win.”
Bob Putnam can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.