FORT MYERS — Down to a final out, trailing by five runs, the reality of the situation finally rushed over Tyler Danish.
He fought back the tears, stepped into the batter’s box and gave a few futile swings. It was one of those rare moments this season when Durant was already too far gone for Danish to help.
“I knew it was almost over,” Danish said. “The reality of it …it hit me kind of hard.”
Danish flied out for the third and final out of the Class 8A championship Saturday, putting a somber close to his remarkable senior year and the almost-storybook season of the Cougars.
Durant fell 8-3 to Altamonte Springs Lake Brantley, a defeat that resembled almost nothing that had come to define the team over its dominant 12-game win streak entering the final.
In the 14 games prior to Saturday’s final, the Cougars allowed more than a single run just once — a 13-3 victory over Middleton on April 19. Lake Brantley was one of only two teams — and Newsome, in an 8-1 win March 1 — to score eight runs against them.
Pitching and defense, both strengths for the Cougars (25-6), failed them at crucial times.
“It just didn’t go my way tonight,” said senior Chaz Fowler, who allowed five runs on five hits in a little more than two innings.
The Cougars’ plan was for Fowler, a hulking senior lefty with a 7-3 record and 1.43 ERA, to hold off the Patriots long enough to bring Danish to the mound in the fifth.
After Friday’s semifinal victory, Fowler had quietly stewed at the end of the table during post-game interviews. The Cougars had again been asked to respond to an opponents’ suggestion, this time from Hialeah American coach Ricky Gutierrez, that Danish was totally responsible for the victory.
“Tyler Danish was a one-man show,” Gutierrez said. “The rest of them didn’t have to do much.”
Fowler and the rest of his teammates had long ago grown weary of hearing how Durant was essentially a one-man band: Danish and the Cougars.
But the Cougars allowed two runs in the top of the first, one of six times they had even allowed that many in a game this season.
Lake Brantley added four runs in the third, knocking Fowler from the game and bringing up junior right-hander and third baseman Luke Heyer, who had only pitched three innings all season.
The plan had already fallen apart for Durant, while the Patriots’ went as they wanted.
“We knew Danish had three innings left in him,” Lake Brantley coach Eric Entrekin said. “We just wanted to get a lead and hold it.”
Trailing 6-0 going into the bottom of the fourth, Durant added its first two runs on a pair of sacrifice flys from Heyer and Fowler. The Cougars scored again in the fifth on Paxton Sims’ two-out RBI single, pulling within 6-3.
The Patriots, however, thwarted the Cougars’ late rally when Logan Warmouth scored on a wild pitch from Heyer in the sixth.
By the time Danish came to the mound in the seventh, Lake Brantley was again in scoring position with a runner on second. A wild pitch and a sacrifice fly to right gave the Patriots another run and the winning margin.
Danish got the final three outs, then watched as Durant tallied two quick flyouts in the bottom half of the seventh. That brought him to his final plate appearance in a high school game.
“We did a great job of battling back,” Danish said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team to fight with.”
But in victory, Entrekin came to a somewhat different take on Danish and the Cougars than the coach who succumbed to them the previous afternoon.
“They are not a one-man team,” he said. “But I’m glad we played (Danish) in the finals and not the semifinals.”