BRANDON — Moments after his bases-loaded, high infield chopper ended a tense duel with Freedom, Hawks junior Erik Striker — yeah, that Eric Striker — leaped into the arms of coach Mike Wrenn.
About an inning before, Wrenn had taken his own leap, this one borne of faith. As a result, Armwood (8-3) is headed to the Saladino Tournament semifinals.
Inserted by Wrenn in the top of the eighth, Striker’s two-strike single up the middle scored Josh Spano, lifting Armwood to a 2-1 triumph over Freedom (7-5). The Hawks face Newsome in Saturday’s 4 p.m. semifinal at Brandon High.
“He hasn’t been doing the best and I was trying to put some faith in him like we’ve shown faith in him as a coaching staff,” Wrenn said. “He did a good job and I’m real happy for him.”
Preceding the clutch hit: a crisp pitchers’ duel between Patriots senior right-hander Dave Seward (6 2/3 innings, six hits) and Hawks lefty Sean Cramer (seven innings, four hits, eight strikeouts, no walks).
Nursing a 1-0 lead, Seward had two out with a runner on first in the seventh before encountering trouble. He walked No. 9 batter Tanner Emmons, who had worked a full count, then walked Jordan Fameree to load the bases.
Senior side-arm specialist Alex Wentz entered in relief and walked Paul John Roundtree to tie the score before striking out No. 3 hitter Jackson Fameree.
“That’s baseball,” Pats coach A.J. Leppla said. “Dave threw his butt off.”
Spano, who caught all eight innings, opened the bottom of the eighth with a single and moved to third on Mark Mahoney’s one-out base hit to left. Striker, a .150 hitter entering the game, got his hit after Shawn Queen was intentionally walked to load the bases.
“(Wrenn) always says he believes in me, he knows I have the ability to do it,” said Striker, a Division I-A football prospect who bolted the ballpark to attend the University of Florida’s spring practice. “So I really wasn’t surprised (at being inserted) at all.”
Newsome upsets Gaither
Newsome snapped Gaither’s seven-game win streak with a 1-0 upset of the Cowboys, backed by a complete-game two hitter by senior right-hander Julius Engel.
Engel retired nine of the past 10 Gaither batters he faced and didn’t allow a hit after a leadoff single in the third against the Cowboys (8-2).
“It was huge,” Engel said. “Everybody in the dugout was on a high after this game. Everybody was loving it, especially against a team as good as them.”
Newsome (5-5) scored the game’s only run when a throw to third base sailed into leftfield on Erik Dowse’s stolen-base attempt in the third inning.
“We can’t wait around,” Gaither coach Frank Permuy said. “They did the little things and we didn’t. It all comes down to that we didn’t hit the ball in the open spots. We made contact. We really hit the ball hard today. It kept happening, right at somebody every time.”
Eduardo A. Encina, Times staff writer