BY EDUARDO A. ENCINA
SARASOTA - During the 16-game winning streak Brandon brought into the Class 5A state semifinals, the young Eagles didn't believe they could be beat.
But in the end, it took just one inning to take the Eagles out of their game. Facing a senior-laden Dunedin team, doubt crept in early, and Brandon couldn't mount one more rally, falling to the Falcons 16-3 in seven innings.
Over the past six weeks, this team - which starts seven sophomores - put Brandon baseball back on the map. They had people talking about the future. But on Wednesday night, nothing hurt like the present.
"Everything seemed to be going their way," said sophomore Roderick Shoulders, his eyes red and fighting back tears. "All the hard balls we hit right at somebody. Theirs went in the gaps, went over the fence. Nothing broke our way."
Dunedin (25-6) hit three towering homers off Brandon starter Austin Browder, including two in a six-run second inning that killed Brandon's will. Pitcher Max Kreuter - who threw six innings of four-hit ball to run his record to 13-0 -- helped his own cause with a three-run homer and two batters later, Jake Rogers added a two-run shot, giving the Falcons a 6-2 lead.
"That lead was the difference," senior designated hitter Clay Kollenbaum, who drove in a team-high five runs and homered in the fifth. "It's what led to the final score. We don't have that inning, it's a different ballgame."
Brandon (25-7) walked nine and hit two batters.
"The walks killed me," said Browder, who allowed eight runs on four hits in 4 1/3 innnings. "Half of that would have been fine, but six walks are ridiculous."
For the rest of the night, Brandon chased the Falcons. Brandon stranded the bases loaded in the sixth. Catcher Michael Smith's shot to center would have been a homer at Don Powell Field, but was just a warning track fly out.
After Brandon had runners on first and second in the third, the Eagles advanced just one runner past first for the rest of the game. And even then - when Chris Bradford doubled in the seventh and was picked off the base making a turn for third - nothing came of it.
"We were as ready as we've been," Brandon coach Matt Stallbaumer said. "It just didn't go our way. And when it didn't go our way, there was a little panic button that was hit for the first time in a long time."
Yes, they are young, graduating just one senior starter, but it served as little consolation Wednesday night.
"I think we got into our own heads," Smith said. "I had no idea it would be like this. I just thought we'd come out here and take care of business. This is no way to end a season. Yeah everybody but one team ends the season with on a loss, but we should be that one team that doesn't."