For months we thought that Friday’s region semifinal would be Dunedin vs. Seminole.
Big bats and live arms and the two best teams in Pinellas County turning in another terrific, thrilling and taut duel in a high-stakes playoff game that would probably lead to a spot at the state tournament.
Well, it didn’t happen.
But something better did.
A 15-year-old freshman named Brandon Grigsby, playing for a team with a losing record, started against East Lake and was brilliant in pitching his Patriots to a stunning 2-0 win.
He allowed four hits.
He struck out four batters.
He hit his first home run.
“He was the man,” said one of the coaches, and that was echoed by one of his teammates, then another, and then another, while nearby the right-hander was busy putting equipment away in the baseball shed, per his freshman duties.
“They work you hard here,” he said, laughing.
Maybe that’s because he made it look so easy on the mound.
He had a runner on base in each of the first three innings — via an infield hit, a hit batter and a walk — and survived unscathed.
In the fourth, he allowed two hits, but got an assist when centerfielder Josh Dallas made a perfect throw to get an advancing runner at third base.
That’s as close as the Eagles got to third base as Grigsby just got better and better.
“When he gets around the fourth inning he either starts to struggle or starts to dominate,” said Donny Norris, who won Tuesday’s region quarterfinal.
Friday, it was dominate. From the fourth to the seventh innings, he retired eight straight batters.
His homer, a line shot to left in the sixth inning, gave him an insurance run heading into the seventh, and it looked like he might need it.
East Lake put runners on first and second, and Grigsby threw three straight balls to the No. 9 hitter.
He was down to his last pitch.
He never even threw it.
Instead, expecting that the ultra-aggressive Eagles might try a double steal, Pinellas Park coach Bill Ruttencutter called for what turned out to be a successful and game-ending pickoff throw to second.
“I knew I had to get out of there right then,” Grigsby said.
Grigsby has been winning games all season (he’s now 6-2), but he never pitched in the big ones until the district final against Largo.
And he had yet to face a team of East Lake’s caliber.
But in his last three starts, he has now allowed six hits and one run in 19 innings, despite only throwing around 80 mph with a curveball that looks half that fast sometimes.
“East Lake didn’t know what was coming,” said catcher Ryan Reinoso. “He threw everything for strikes, and could start hitters off with any of his pitches. You could tell they were confused.”
The Patriots, 7-14 at one point, have won six straight games. They had won a playoff game before, but that was back in 1984.
Now, they have won two.
“Man, this is one of the greatest feelings ever,” said Norris, who will start the region final. “When the streak started, I would have just been happy with another district championship. But this …this is one of the greatest feelings I’ll ever have the rest of my life.”
Seminole and Dunedin?
But something better did.
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org