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SEMINOLE — Taylor Layner pitched one of the best games of his life last season against Northeast on the night he buried his beloved grandfather.
He was wild that night, but wily, blazingly brilliant and — considering the circumstances — pretty courageous.
After his high school career came to an end Tuesday night, in a game in which he allowed just two hits and struck out 10 but made one bad pitch at the worst possible time, he looked up to the sky and said he thought his grandfather would be pretty proud of how he did.
He looked at his teammates and hoped they would be proud, too. Then he walked off the field to join his brother and father and friends, and they were most definitely proud.
Taylor Layner was not going to let himself be defined by one lousy pitch.
• • •
By the time the fifth inning had come and gone, it had become perfectly apparent that this was the kind of baseball game that was going to come down to one pitch, most likely a bad one that someone would go to bed wishing he could have back.
And you knew the moment had arrived for that pitch in the top of the sixth inning. You knew it had arrived when Layner walked Lance McCullers, then Pete Alonso, though the Warriors lefty — and most of the folks behind home plate — was pretty sure he had struck Alonso out.
He was bothered, annoyed. He stepped on the rubber, looked at runners, peered home, lifted his right leg, turned and threw.
And there it was.
“I threw it right down the middle,” he said, shaking his head.
Jesuit’s Nolan Schultz, sitting on a fastball, squashed it over the fence, and that was that.
Jesuit 3, Osceola 0, and the end of an era.
• • •
After the game, Layner and fellow seniors Mike Boriboun, Scott Schlapinski and T.J. Glessner gathered in the outfield.
There were no tears, but the disappointment flowed from the players, even if they had done so much, helping carry the Warriors from there to here, from losing seasons to almost 100 wins in the past four.
“We’ve all played together or against each other forever,” said Schlapinski. “And we always won, so when we got here, we just wanted to keep on winning. That’s all.”
They did. They won district titles, have been to the playoffs three straight seasons for the first time in school history and even won a Pinellas County Athletic Conference title this year.
It was a nice run.
“It’s hard to say it’s over,” Layner said, “but it’s over.”
• • •
The little lefty won 12 games this season, more than 30 in his Osceola career, and would have pitched every inning of every game had he been allowed.
And if you think he wouldn’t have asked to start Friday’s second-round playoff game, then you don’t know him.
Yes, he gave up the homer. But Layner struck out four of the last five batters he faced.
He struck out the side in the final inning.
He walked off the field with a steely gaze and his head up.
Layner made almost 100 good pitches Tuesday night.
He wasn’t going to let himself be defined by one bad one.