PORT ST. LUCIE — St. Petersburg Catholic came up a step short of advancing to the Class 3A state final Wednesday afternoon. Make that a half step short. Or perhaps a quarter step.
With a runner on third and two outs in the top of the ninth inning against Delray Beach American Heritage, shortstop Max Geller ranged toward third to field a Chris Canavan grounder. Canavan just beat out the throw, which allowed the eventual winning run to score in a 5-4 Stallions win.
St. Petersburg Catholic went down in order in the bottom of the ninth to end the game. It was the fifth straight one-run win for American Heritage (22-7).
“It’s unfortunate,” SPC coach John Vigue said. “It was a bang-bang play and I thought we had him. That’s the way it goes.”
The Barons had to fight their way back just to be in position to win. American Heritage jumped on starter Stewart Wilkes for four runs on five hits in the first two innings.
But a bout of wildness, and sickness, from Stallions starter Dylan Arnold helped the Barons stay within striking distance. Arnold threw up on the field after the first out, but stayed in the game.
SPC (20-10-1) got one run back in the second when Jimmy Lynch scored on a wild pitch. Another SPC run in the third came courtesy of a fielder’s choice from Joey Saunders that scored Jacob McFadden.
John Miller then drove in Corey Baptist with a clutch two-out single to rightfield. Momentum swung to SPC even more in the fifth inning when Lynch led off with a home run to leftfield.
“I was just trying to hit a double and get into scoring position,” Lynch said. “I was trying to do whatever I could to tie it up.”
With the score tied in the sixth, the Barons were poised to take the lead when Dakota Sarafin led off with a double and was sacrificed to third on a Geller bunt.
But reliever Josh Glick picked off Sarafin at third for the second out. McFadden then struck out.
“They caught us looking,” Vigue said. “Got to tip your hat to them. That was a really (gutsy) play. They throw it away and it gives us the winning run, in my opinion. But they caught our guy sleeping.”
Stallions coach Carm Mazza also knew the importance of the pickoff play.
“I really though that was one of the biggest plays in the game because it gave us momentum back,” Mazza said. “It’s a play we’ve been working on. It worked perfectly.”
SPC never seriously threatened the rest of the game. Three Stallions pitchers held the Barons to four hits, although they walked eight.
After the first two innings, Lynch pitched five scoreless innings before being forced out due to a cramp in his left leg.
“Stewart wasn’t throwing the way he normally does,” Lynch said. “I was just trying to throw strikes and give our team a chance to stay in the game.”
Will Gerdes relieved in the eighth inning. He allowed only one hit.
Vigue knew his team would battle back after the four-run deficit.
“They are the most resilient group of kids I’ve ever been around,” he said.