FORT MYERS — As the innings dragged on in Monday’s Class 3A state semifinal between Jacksonville Providence and Clearwater Central Catholic, it became apparent one swing would decide the outcome.
CCC’s David Paul and Providence’s Brooks Lockett looked like the aces they have been all season. And when both pitchers got into trouble, they were bailed out by outstanding defense and suspect base running.
In the top of the eighth inning of a scoreless game, with runners on first and third and one out, Providence’s Casey Cribb got the big swing. Cribb launched an 0-1 curveball over the Green Monster replica in leftfield at JetBlue Park for a three-run home run. It was Paul’s 108th — and final — pitch of the game.
CCC scored in the bottom of the inning, but ultimately lost 3-1 .
“I didn’t know if it was going out,” CCC coach Todd Vaughan said. “I knew it was off the wall and they were going to score a run. It just kept going and I’m trying to get the air pump to blow the wall up higher. I couldn’t get there.”
The extra inning was made possible due to near misses by both teams. In the first inning, the Marauders (26-5) and Stallions both left the bases loaded.
In the third inning with one out, CCC’s Brenden Overton and Paul got singles to put runners on first and third. Andrew Mink then hit a grounder to the right side of first base. Second baseman Jay Prather threw home just in time to tag out Overton.
“I was surprised,” Overton said. “I saw the first baseman crash so I thought he might have a play on that and I stuttered. If he hadn’t have done that then I might have been in.”
Paul (11-1) scattered six hits and got nice defensive plays from second baseman Derek Gibree and shortstop Benito Mendizabal to get out of jams in the sixth and seventh innings.
“Benny Mendizabal played the (heck) out of it,” Vaughan said. “Derek played well at second base. Those are the kind of things we rely on.”
Then came the fateful eighth inning.
After a ground out to start the inning, David Boyle reached on a walk and got to third on an errant pickoff attempt by Paul. Matt Fitzsimmons was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners. After a meeting on the mound, the decision was to pitch to Cribb, who was 2-for-2 with a walk against Paul. One pitch later, the Marauders were in a big hole.
“We pitched around the No. 4 hitter and then the talk was are we going to turn a double play or just play for one?” Vaughan said. “We thought if we had a shot we’d turn a double play.”
Cribb said he never saw the ball clear the Monster.
“I rounded first and I saw Fitz throw his hands up and I knew it was a home run,” Cribb said. “At first I thought it was going to hit off the wall.”
The Marauders did put a scare in the Stallions (20-11) in the bottom of the inning. Gibree led off with a single and Overton followed with another to put runners on first and third. Paul then lofted a fly to right that landed just in front of Fitzsimmons.
Gibree scored but Overton had to see if the ball would be caught. When it dropped, he ran to second too late and was forced out.
After a Mink walk, Lockett (9-0) was lifted for reliever Matt Reitz. Andrew Murphy then lined to shortstop and Paul was doubled off second to end the game.
“Typical state tournament-type ball game,” Vaughan said. “The team who got the key hit was going to win.”
Photo: Jacksonville Providence catcher Casey Cribb, right, tags out Clearwater Central Catholic's Brenden Overton at home