PORT ST. LUCIE — It was a remarkable run for Brandon, a team with no college commits or transfers that won 10 in a row to advance to the Class 7A state championship game. Of course the Eagles would have preferred to walk away with the first baseball title in the high school's 98-year history instead of a 4-2 loss to Venice on Sunday, but in the immediate aftermath, coach Matt Stallbaumer marveled at what his team had achieved.
"One unbelievable ride," Stallbaumer said. "They're probably not going to talk about it tonight, but we will all hang this medal in our house and show our kids one day."
Brandon (20-9) jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the third when Venice shortstop Dalton Guthrie dropped a ball at second, scoring Chris Toney. For the second straight day, though, Brandon committed three errors that led to unearned runs, three on Sunday.
"Instinct takes over, and you just go," Stallbaumer said of the defensive miscues. "After the fact, (if) you hesitate on those situations or you're not ready for it, it kind of jumps up and bites you."
With the score tied 1-1 in the top of the fourth, two walks by Eagles starting pitcher Eric Hinostroza, with a sacrifice bunt and an infield single—one of four in the game for Venice—sandwiched in between, loaded the bases for the Indians. Centerfielder Rex Ingerick drove in one run with another infield single. Two batters later, with the bases loaded and two outs, Brandon third baseman Tyler Raymond bobbled a grounder ,then threw it over the head of first baseman Alex Gittens as Venice (24-8) scored two runs to take a 4-1 lead.
Raymond had an RBI single in the fifth against sophomore Brandon Elmy, who made just his fourth start of the year. That single, one of 18 that Brandon collected in the state tournament (it had no extra-base hits) chased Elmy from the game. Reliever Tyson Albert bounced his first two pitches to the plate. One pitch later, Venice coach Craig Faulkner brought in Cooper Hammond with runners on second and third and one out.
Hammond, with a submarine delivery, had thrown fewer than 60 pitches in 5⅔ innings of relief Saturday but showed no signs of fatigue, striking out four of the nine batters he faced.
"Every pitcher we had seen threw up top," Hinostroza said of the traditional overhand delivery. "We tried to tell our guys to wait back and hit it the other way, but we still got caught up in that little slider that just floated."
Toney, who threw a 77-pitch complete game in Saturday's 7-4 semifinal win, threw 35 pitches in two scoreless innings of relief for the Eagles, who just couldn't wait on Hammond's pitches that come in at around 78 mph.
"I don't know the day before the state final game that's something you can prep for," Stallbaumer said of Hammond.
"That kid is unique."