BRANDON — Moments after completing its latest Saladino Tournament splash Wednesday morning, Strawberry Crest coach Eric Beattie gathered his players outside the third-base dugout and tapped on the left side of his chest.
“Keep playing with your heart,” Beattie told them.
Moments later, the Chargers adjourned, a few heartbeats closer to history.
For the first time in the program’s four-year existence, the Chargers still possess a pulse entering the Saladino semifinals. On a bright, breezy morning, Beattie’s club collected 10 hits and pieced together a solid pitching effort in a 4-1 quarterfinal win against King.
Strawberry Crest (9-3), which upset previously unbeaten Steinbrenner 4-1 Tuesday to win its pool, faces defending champ Jefferson in today’s 4 p.m. semifinal at Brandon High.
“Coach just said it, we’ve been playing with our heart mainly,” said senior second baseman Nick Brocato, 2-for-2 with a pair of singles Wednesday.
“We’re not, like, the biggest team, we’re probably not the best team out there, but we all come together. When pitching, defense and hitting come together it’s like, the most beautiful thing.”
The Chargers jumped immediately Wednesday on Lions right-handed sophomore Drew Grubb. Matthew Collado led off the bottom of the first with a single, advanced two bases on a throwing error and scored on Logan Fernandez’s single.
They scored twice more in the third for a 3-1 lead despite having two baserunners picked off by Grubb in the inning. Fernandez walked, went to third on Jeffrey Murray’s double and scored on Dustin Lawson’s base hit. Murray later stole home.
“We hit well situationally, we had guys moving runners,” Beattie said. “We had a couple of baserunning mistakes that hurt us a little bit, but we find a way to get a run on the board and that’s what’s important.”
Six-foot, 220-pound freshman Cory Smith worked the first four innings, allowing four hits and one unearned run (on a wild pitch). Junior Harold Welch followed with two scoreless innings before closer Roberto Garcia retired the side in the seventh.
Jefferson, by contrast, wasn’t quite as efficient in its three-hour, 12-8 victory against Wharton.
The Dragons (9-3) collected 14 hits off four Wildcats pitchers and capitalized on five errors, but watched its three pitchers surrender seven hits, hit three batters and issue nine walks.
Leftfielder Trey Robinson went 2-for-4 with a triple and three runs scored. Sophomore starting pitcher Nelson Maldonado had three singles, an RBI and two runs scored.