TAMPA — After one time through the Class 4A-9 district schedule, Middleton coach Vernon Slater knows what kind of team he has this season — one he believes possesses a lineup that can match up top to bottom with any other in the league, but is prone to costly errors in the field that have already cost the Tigers wins.
But in Tuesday night's district contest against Strawberry Crest, it was the Tigers who took advantage of their opponents' miscues, using an error-filled seven-run bottom of the sixth inning to beat the Chargers at home for a comeback 10-6 win.
Coming off a pair of blown leads in losses to district foes Jesuit and Jefferson last week, Slater called Tuesday a "make-or-break game."
"I was never worried about us being out of the game because even though we started out defensive-wise slow, we were still putting the ball in play," Slater said. "We were hitting them hard. I just thought it was a matter of time. If you keep hitting the ball like that, something is bound to happen."
Middleton (6-3, 6-2 Class 4A-9) rattled off 12 hits but needed help from the Chargers (7-3, 6-3), who botched a popup in foul territory with two on and two out leading 6-4.
That was the second chance Middleton needed. Two batters later with the bases loaded, another missed infield popup, combined with a throwing error to home plate, scored three runs on one play.
The Tigers would get back-to-back hits and draw three more walks to score three more runs in the inning. Middleton sent 13 batters to the plate against four Strawberry Crest pitchers in the frame.
"We got some breaks," Slater said. "That was a huge break for us, but we answered at the plate. They had a couple plays that took them out, but that's baseball. Things like that happen."
Middleton starting pitcher Durin O'Linger (2-2), one of five Middleton hitters to have multiple hits, allowed just one hit after Ty Cherry's home run in the third that gave the Chargers a 4-1 lead.
The first four batters in Middleton's lineup — Eric Comstock, O'Linger, Dexture McCall and Demetre Taylor — were a combined 9-for-14 with seven runs scored.
"I trust our bats, but that was exceptional what happened tonight," O'Linger said. "Usually we fall behind like what happened tonight, but we don't come back.
"It says something different about this team this year. It's something about the atmosphere. We're going to win and everybody thinks that."