PORT ST. LUCIE — After waking up at 6 a.m., the Brandon baseball team stumbled through its pregame fielding warmups. Three straight singles by the first three Eagles batters resulted in zero runs in the top of the first. And then three fielding errors in the bottom half of the inning led to four unearned runs.
But that was just the first inning. And slowly but surely, the Eagles (20-8) rebounded, collecting a total of 13 hits, seven stolen bases (on seven attempts) and one spot in the Class 7A state title game with a 7-4 win over New Smyrna Beach on Saturday.
In the 98-year history of Brandon High, the Eagles have only reached the title game twice (1990, 1995). At 4 p.m. today, they will have their chance to win the program's first state championship.
The key to Saturday's comeback, coach Matt Stallbaumer said, was the Eagles' ability to steal bases at will.
"We're not built to fall behind," Stallbaumer said. "The opposing team allowed us to get into scoring position without wasting an out. We did not have to waste one single out to get those guys into scoring position, which really allowed us to get some multiple runs."
New Smyrna Beach (17-12) lost its regular starting catcher, sophomore Jed Tylutki, before the start of the region tournament when he suffered a compound fracture of his finger off the baseball diamond ("We had talked about it all year, once we started baseball season, not to do anything off the field that could hurt us, and it was a situation where we weren't very mature," Barracudas coach Nick Regilio said). Senior Chris Scarcello, who had no previous varsity catching experience, took Tylutki place.
And Brandon took advantage. Branden Wilborn, running for Adam Sass, even swiped a base on a designed pitchout.
The Eagles tied it with three unearned runs in the fourth inning and took the lead in the fifth on an RBI single by Michael Caballero.
Meanwhile, after throwing 26 pitches in the first inning (and catching a glimpse of Eric Hinostroza warming in the bullpen), Chris Toney threw just 51 over the next six innings and didn't give up any hits after surrendering two in the first.
"I was a little heated after they booted those two balls," Toney said of the back-to-back fielding errors Brandon committed in the first. "But I knew I had to get through it."