ST. PETERSBURG — When given the choice of playing Tuesday's Class 8A, District 8 semifinal against Palm Harbor University at either Gibbs or spacious Huggins-Stengel Field, St. Petersburg players unanimously chose the latter.
It was clearly a good decision. The Green Devils know how to play at Huggins-Stengel.
Using small ball on the large field, St. Petersburg stole home for one run and had a fielder's-choice ground out for another. That proved to be enough in a 2-0 win over the Hurricanes.
The Green Devils (17-8) advance to Thursday's district final against Sarasota Riverview. The win also guarantees a region playoff game next week.
Left-hander David Sockol scattered five hits and did not allow a PHU runner to reach third base. PHU's Brian Auerbach also pitched well, but was done in by the runs in the first and fouth innings.
In the first inning, Richie Rivera led off with a walk. He reached second on a passed ball and got to third on a one-out sacrifice. With two outs, Rivera took off from third base and slid head first for the game's first run.
"I told Coach (Travis Phelps) that I'm going to go for it," Rivera said. "The pitcher had a slow wind-up and I knew I could make it. I've done it twice before this season. I got a good jump and made it."
That gave Sockol some much needed confidence.
"When something like that happens it gives everyone some extra energy," Sockol said. "Now I knew I had one run to play with. We've got a little cushion."
St. Petersburg scratched another run across in the fourth inning.
Aaron Haughton led off with a double to right-centerfield. Keegan Galloway pinch ran for Haughton and he scored the second run on an infield ground out by Dylan Mlotkowski. From there, Sockol pitched to contact and allowed his defense to make plays.
"I knew from the first inning that I didn't have my best stuff," Sockol said. "I just had to get through it, throw strikes and let my defense do what they do. They didn't have an error the entire game."
PHU (11-14) put runners on second in the fourth and sixth innings, but both times the scoring chances ended with flyouts to the outfield.
8A-7: Blomingdale takes battle of aces
TAMPA — For the past six months, Bloomingdale coach Kris Wilken had planned for the very situation in which the Bulls found themselves Tuesday.
All he wanted to do was make sure his team made the district semifinals and could put the ball in Logan Crouse's hands. The Bloomingdale ace, Wilken believed, could take care of the rest.
What Wilken couldn't plan for, though, was Alonso ace Alex Faedo standing between the Bulls and their region berth. And for the first six innings of Tuesday's Class 8A, District 7 semifinal, it was a pitchers' duel, with Crouse and Faedo combining for 12 strikeouts.
But in the top of the seventh, the Bulls (17-8, 6-5) took advantage of Alonso mistakes, and Crouse scored the only run of the game to lead his Bulls to a 1-0 victory and a spot in Thursday's district final against Plant.
"It was kind of a wait and see who was going to make the first mistakes," Wilken said, "and my guys held up."
Faedo, who came into the game with a 0.68 ERA, gave up just two hits through the first six innings. But after striking out the leadoff batter in the seventh, Faedo walked Crouse and hit Josh Mote with a pitch.
Wilken said he usually replaces Crouse, a Florida State commit, with a pinch runner on nights when he pitches. But with the game on the line, Wilken kept his best player on the field. And it paid off.
In the next at-bat, Jamie Calloway hit a ground ball to rightfield, and the Alonso (18-7, 8-3) first baseman overthrew the second baseman, giving Crouse enough time to run home.
Crouse, who had allowed just two hits through the first six innings, gave up a leadoff single, but struck out the last two batters, including Faedo for the final out of the game.
Crouse ended the night with eight strikeouts. But he admitted that after a long pitchers' duel, the last one was the sweetest.
"Me and him, there's definitely a rivalry there. Two top competitors, we always want to out-compete the other one," Crouse said of Faedo. "For it to be him, it just felt good."
The second semifinal of the night — in which Plant beat Riverview 2-0 — featured more top pitching, as Sharks (11-12, 3-8) left-hander Garrett Bye gave up three hits and struck out eight in 4 2/3 innings of work.
Plant's two first-inning runs, scored on a two-RBI single from Stephen Chamblee, would be enough for the Panthers to advance, though, as Plant (21-5, 11-0) right-hander Jake Woodford worked his way out of some sixth-inning trouble and got three quick outs in the seventh to end the game.
"He's just a bulldog. He's our guy," Plant coach Dennis Braun said about his ace. "That's why he is where he is, and that's why he's out there, and that's why he pitches all the big games. He can get us out of a jam."
2A-8: Lions reach playoffs for first time
ST. PETERSBURG — Lakeside Christian earned its first region tournament berth with a 6-2 semifinal win over Keswick Christian at Canterbury.
Both teams scored in the first inning, but Lakeside (14-8) got two runs in the fourth and one in the fifth to take a 4-1 lead. Keswick (8-10) cut the lead to 4-2 with a run in the top of the sixth, but the Lions broke the game open in the bottom of the inning.
Lakeside Christian loaded the bases with two outs. Bryan Lopez then doubled home two runs to make it 6-2. Noah Brunk got the final three outs to earn the save. Christian Michener pitched the first five innings to earn the win.
"We don't hit the ball too well so we usually have to rely on pitching and defense to get us through," Lakeside Christian coach James Coffman said. "We got the key hits today, and Christian and Noah pitched well."
Lakeside Christian faces top seed Canterbury on Thursday at 6 p.m. for the championship.
Staff writer Kelly Parsons contributed to this report.