DUNEDIN — Canterbury pitcher Brandon Hamilton has been hoping for years to quiet the critics.
To silence those who dismissed him as a baseball player because he suits up for a Class A school.
To render mute those who don't think small private schools deserve a chance at the bigger schools.
He and his teammates dreamed about it — knocking off Class 5A East Lake in the first round of the Dunedin Spring Classic on Monday night and then doing the same to Class 6A St. Petersburg in the second.
"That would have been nice," Hamilton said.
The Crusaders lost that chance when they dropped their first game in the tournament — literally. With the score tied in the bottom of the seventh, a lazy and extremely catchable fly ball was hit to left, but improbably clanked out of the waiting glove as the winning run sprinted home.
Parents grimaced. Players stood in shock.
"A tough way to lose," Hamilton said.
Canterbury wanted badly to beat the Eagles. Instead, Canterbury beat itself.
When you are a small private school in a county where public schools have been encouraged not to schedule you, the chance presented Monday is rare.
Many public school coaches will say that private schools recruit. That they play weak schedules, resulting in inflated statistics, meaning that more deserving and legitimate numbers posted by the kids at the bigger schools never make the paper. That, quite simply, their players aren't worthy.
The chasm is wider in Pinellas County than most places. Last year, they held a baseball all-star game between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties at Tropicana Field.
Hillsborough brought a team of public and private school players. Pinellas brought only public school kids.
"A misunderstanding they called it," Canterbury athletic director Dave Smith said.
No one really believes that, though.
So yes, those were chips on the shoulders of the Crusader players, who banged out two runs in the first inning.
Hamilton struck out the first two batters he faced.
"They were a good team," East Lake coach Mike White told his players afterward. "We found that out pretty quick."
East Lake battled back and took the lead, then lost it, then regained it.
East Lake turned to Taylor Scaggs to hold the lead — "Well, at least they had to use their best pitcher to beat us," Hamilton said — but in the top of the seventh, Canterbury tied the game, only to lose it a few minutes later.
"We looked at it like this, like we were just as good as they were, so it wasn't a matter of the kids going, 'Oh no, it's a 5A school, we're overwhelmed,' " Smith said. "They look forward to big games like this."
Like Christmas, Canterbury coach John Lancaster suggested. Only some years, Christmas comes more often.
"We don't get to play the bigger schools often, so we just really wanted to prove that we can play with them once we got a chance," Hamilton said.
The Crusaders did not completely silence the critics Monday night, nor did they prove they can beat the bigger schools in the county.
But they did prove they at least deserve the chance.
John C. Cotey can be reached at (813) 909-4612 or firstname.lastname@example.org.