MELBOURNE — As Andrew Monahan dug into the batter’s box in the top of the ninth inning of East Lake’s Class 7A region final against Melbourne on Friday, he had only one thought.
“Hit the crap out of the ball,” he said.
Monahan did just that. With the bases loaded and two outs, he hit reliever Carson Jackson’s two-strike fastball way over the leftfield fence for a grand slam.
That gave the Eagles a five-run lead and made the difference in a 7-3 win over the Bulldogs.
East Lake (22-7) will play in its first state tournament since 2002 on May 16 in Fort Myers. This is the third time the Eagles have played an extra-inning game since the district tournament started.
“Our guys just battle,” Eagles coach Dan Genna said. “We’ve been through a lot this season and, actually, losing to Northeast in the district final might have been a good thing. It’s made our guys work just a little bit harder.”
East Lake certainly had to work for everything against the Bulldogs.
After scratching for two runs in the first and third innings thanks to Melbourne throwing errors, East Lake barely threatened until the seventh inning. In between, Melbourne got two runs in the third inning off starter Ryan Wall on two hits and a sacrifice fly.
Steven Plaskett came on in relief in the fourth inning for East Lake and held Melbourne scoreless until the ninth.
In the top of the seventh, East Lake loaded the bases with one out. But a Nick DeSantis strikeout and a flyout to second base by Cameron Churchill ended the threat.
East Lake had the same situation in the ninth inning. With one out, Sawyer Wirth and Keegan Maronpot each singled. DeSantis then struck out, but the third strike was dropped and DeSantis reached first.
With two outs, Ian Lisle worked a full count walk to let Wirth score.
“That could get overlooked,” Genna said. “That was a key at-bat. He worked that walk and helped us finally break through.”
Then Monahan lost Jackson’s two-strike pitch over the fence and onto Melbourne’s football field.
It was the moment East Lake fans could start planning a trip to the state tournament.
“When I first hit it I was hoping it would be a double over his head,” Monahan said. “When I saw the leftfielder look over the fence I knew it was gone. Probably the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
Staked to a five-run lead, Plaskett could relax a little bit. He pitched out of trouble in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. In the ninth, he allowed a one-out hit that turned into three bases due to an error. A fly allowed the Bulldogs (25-5) to score their third run. But a flyout ended the game and triggered an East Lake pile up on the infield.
“This season hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to sometimes,” Plaskett said. “But we’ve come through when we had to. I love it. I love the pressure situations. And now we’re regional champs.”