CLEARWATER — The trash talk between Tampa Catholic and Clearwater Central Catholic started before the game, lingered during the game and continued well after the Crusaders upset their rival 8-2 Friday to advance to the 3A region final.
This marked the first time either team won by more than two runs in the season series.
In the top of the first with two on and one out, Cameron Alford took an 0-1 pitch and blasted it to leftfield, putting the Crusaders up 3-0.
CCC (19-10) would answer quickly with a two-run home run by Ray Fox in the bottom half of the first, but Tampa Catholic pitcher Derek Martin was unhittable after giving up those runs.
“I shook (the home run) off because I had gotten ahead of their hitter, so I took a little bit off of that pitch,” said Martin, who finished with two earned runs off three hits and six strikeouts through six. “I knew our offense was going to score.”
Martin made the start on three days’ rest. In the bottom of the fifth, CCC had runners at the corners with two out, but Martin struck out Jeff Campbell with a nasty breaking pitch.
“I felt like my fastball was on tonight and I had great command on my cutter,” Martin said.
Tampa Catholic (13-14) unloaded offensively, scoring on a home run from Matt Darrigo in the second, and two more runs in the third off of a sacrifice fly by Paulie Russo and error in the outfield.
The umpires pulled both coaches aside after the trash talk boiled over and CCC’s Ryan Hallam was ejected in the third disputing a call.
“The ump told me that my guys are on their guys, and their guys are on our guys, and to control our teams,” said Tampa Catholic coach Pat Russo.
Up 6-2, the Crusaders added two more insurance runs off consecutive sacrifice bunts from Russo and Darrigo in the fifth inning.
“People have been doubting us all year,” Pat Russo said. “It was emotional coming here because we’ve played (CCC) 10 times in the last two years, and we beat them the time that it counts.”