CLEARWATER — Calvary Christian had a season of preparation for Tuesday night.
Within their unblemished 27-0 record, the Warriors won five low-scoring, one-run contests, including a 1-0 tourney battle against Tampa Catholic. So when Calvary's region final with Orlando First Academy came down to the wire — a battle with a Class 4A final four berth in Fort Myers on the line — the hosts didn't crack.
When only a safety squeeze bunt was needed in the sixth inning, senior Marco Benedettini delivered a perfect bunt single down the first-base line. No. 9 batter Richie Mize hustled home from third base with what would be the winning tally in a 3-2 triumph.
"It's the same thing we go over in practice day after day," said Mize, who walked twice and was hit by a pitch, scoring two of the Warriors' three runs. "We watch the ball get down and, fair or foul, we're off. It's instinct."
Grinding out runs paid off for Calvary, which was repetitively stymied by right-handed starter Joseph Charles. The sophomore only gave up one hit — an Eric Kennedy RBI double off the top of the right-centerfield fence in the second, but yielded six walks, one intentional, and a hit batter. But Kennedy worked out of a pair of bases-loaded jams unscathed, stranding eight Warrior runners over four innings.
Classmate Bryce Fisher came in to relieve and Calvary (28-0) responded with another tiebreaking tally in the fifth when Cavan Ingram's looping double down the leftfield line chased home courtesy runner Joseph Lyons, in after starting pitcher Nolan Hudi singled.
Both times Calvary scored, TFA (23-5) responded behind DH Kyle Holden, who singled in a run in the fourth and drew a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch in the sixth.
Hudi, who allowed three hits and fanned nine over six innings, watched with joy as Benedettini delivered his heroics.
"I'd say gassed is a good word to use," Hudi said of some struggles in his final frame. "It made things challenging but our defense always picks me up."
Then the Warriors received its ultimate lift when closer Graham Hoffman, 10 days removed from appendix surgery, worked the seventh. The senior gave up a Kendrick Calilao walk but didn't allow the tying run any closer than first base.
"I didn't throw at all during my time off and I think the rest did me good," said Hoffman. "I thought I'd feel something (bad afterward) but I feel great. It was my last game on this field and I can't imagine a better ending."
And with the state semifinals looming, coach Greg Olsen said, "We just have to be consistent, make sure our preparation is strong. The guys know that if they value practice as they should, we can hit the field and have some fun."
Calvary Christian plays at 7 p.m. next Friday in the state semifinals at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.