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One pitch saves Dunedin's state baseball title

SARASOTA — Alex Norris never imagined it would come down to this.

To him.

To one pitch.

But on this team, this group of state champions after Thursday's 3-2 win over South Fork, it actually seems perfectly logical.

On a team where a little-used senior second baseman named Danny Gardner fields the most nerve-racking groundball of his life in the eighth inning, it makes perfect sense that Norris would throw one of the biggest pitches.

On a team where the No. 9 hitter, Mike Kumbat, bunts an impossibly high pitch to put the winning run into scoring position in the 10th inning, it makes perfect sense that Norris would take the ball with the bases loaded and no one out in the bottom of the seventh inning.

On a team where the No. 8 hitter, Max Priest, scores the winning run, why not turn to a left-handed sophomore for one pitch.

One. Pitch.

"Biggest pitch of my life," Norris said.

Biggest understatement, too.

The situation could not have been more harrowing, even for your most battled-tested major-leaguer. The bases were loaded, the score was tied, and he hadn't pitched at all this postseason.

Oh yeah, and this: South Fork's cleanup hitter was at the plate.

"I was pretty nervous," said Norris, playing first base until that moment.

He had warmed up in between innings, ready to bail out starter Clay Kollenbaum.

Or even an entire town.

And to think, his day had started by sleeping in until 8 a.m., and enjoying two McGriddles for breakfast and watching three straight episodes of SportsCenter.

"It was relaxing," he said.

This was not.

Dunedin hadn't won a state title since 1964, and every face on every fan looked as if they were about to get into a car accident.

Norris reared back and threw the best fastball he had, inside corner.

Harper did what he could with it, and it wasn't much.

"I threw it right where I wanted it," Norris said.

The ball chopped the ground and bounded high into air.

"All I could think about was catching it, and setting my feet," Norris said.

If it weren't the state championship game, and the bottom of the seventh, with history about to possibly judge you, maybe you hustle a throw home and try to get a double play.

Instead, Norris cradled the ball like a newborn, set his feet and then shot-putted it toward catcher Ryan Schneider.

"Throw a strike," Norris thought to himself.

The second biggest pitch of his life.

"That had to be unbelieveable,"

Kollenbaum said. "I know I wouldn't want to do it. He made a great pitch. But the toughest one had to be the throw home.

"You throw that one away, and it's Alex Norris lost the game."

Alex Norris didn't win the game, but with one pitch, he might have saved the state championship for his teammates.

He trotted off after his only pitch of the postseason and sat in the dugout as Jake Rogers was summoned.

The bases were loaded, but now there was one out.

The difference between no outs and one cannot be measured.

"It settled us down," Rogers said. "We were excited that the infield could play back. When the infield is in, in that situation, it's a little scary."

"It was," centerfielder Max Kreuter said, "huge."

Rogers finished off South Fork with a dominant three innings plus. Priest drew his walk. Kumbat laid down his bunt. Kreuter delivered the winning hit.

None of it would have been possible without that one pitch.

John C. Cotey can be reached at (813) 909-4612 or johncotey@gmail.com.

One pitch saves Dunedin's state baseball title 05/15/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 19, 2008 1:58pm]
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