ST. PETERSBURG — In a game with numerous close calls and near misses, it was fitting that Friday night’s Class 3A region final between St. Petersburg Catholic and West Palm Beach King’s Academy came down to a play at the plate.
With runners on second and third and one out in the bottom of the 10th inning, Barons batter John Miller hit a slow chopper past the pitcher’s mound. Shortstop Joe Gomez charged and threw home in an attempt to get Jimmy Lynch.
But Gomez’s throw scooted past catcher Kevin Stypolkowski as Lynch slid in for the winning run and a 3-2 victory.
It is the Barons’ first appearance in the state tournament since 1975.
“I’m just thinking, hit it up the middle,” said Miller, a sixth-inning replacement in rightfield. “I just choked up a little bit and tried to make contact.”
Things did not start well for St. Petersburg Catholic. In the first inning, Stypolkowski launched a long two-run homer to rightfield off Will Gerdes to make it 2-0. But Gerdes, Lynch and Stewart Wilkes kept King’s Academy off the board after that.
Meanwhile, the Barons (20-9-1) worked on chipping away at the lead.
In the second, Dakota Sarafin hit a two-out single that scored Joey Saunders to cut the lead in half. Then in the sixth inning, Tito Santos came up big.
With one out and two on, Santos hit a two-strike pitch to left-centerfield that scored pinch-runner Colin O’keeffe to tie the game. An intentional walk to Sarafin loaded the bases. But an attempted squeeze bunt by Max Geller failed and Miller was thrown out trying to get back to third.
In the bottom of the eighth it looked like SPC put the game away when Sarafin doubled down the rightfield line with Saunders on first. But rightfielder Mark Zippin threw a rope to home and nailed Saunders by a few feet.
“We watched that kid in pregame and he didn’t show an arm like that,” Barons coach John Vigue said. “He made me look bad.”
The Barons got out of a jam in the top of the eighth thanks to a good defensive play at second by Saunders. The Lions (19-11) went quietly in the ninth and 10th.
“We are resilient,” Vigue said. “Never count my boys out. We always seem to give ourselves a chance to win games. Talk about a team effort, this was a team effort. Everybody played a part in this one.”
2A: Canterbury makes history with berth
Canterbury is going to the state tournament for the first time in school history. The Crusaders (18-11) scored two runs in the top of the eighth inning and hung on to beat Stuart Community Christian 5-3 for the region championship.
Harrison Hall started and pitched 4 1/3 innings. Jake Holsinger finished the game to earn the win.
The eighth inning started with a Dalton Hughes double. A wild pitch moved him to third then a bunt by David Rodica was mishandled at first, allowing Hughes to score. With the infield drawn in, Brent O’Neal singled to score Rodica for the second run of the inning.
“That team was legitimate,” Canterbury coach Dave Smith said. “We had to play a heck of a game to beat them.”