Thursday, May 24, 2018
Sports

Saladino baseball: Strawberry Crest no-hitter

BRANDON — Mark Moclair knew late in Wednesday's Saladino Tournament quarterfinal that he was in the midst of a special game.

It wasn't until the junior right-hander glanced over at the Strawberry Crest dugout in the final inning and saw his teammates ready to swarm the field that he realized just how unforgettable his performance had become.

"I don't think they had a hit," Moclair said. "Oh my goodness."

Moclair's no-hitter shut out rival Plant City 3-0 and propelled the Chargers (9-4) into today's tournament semifinals, where they'll play a Jefferson (8-4) team that edged host Brandon 1-0 in the late game.

Moclair looked and felt strong in his pregame bullpen. But the nerves of facing a strong rival program he had always wanted to pitch against flustered him once the game began.

His fastballs drifted high. His curveballs spiked into the dirt. He needed 38 pitches to get through the first three innings against the Raiders (8-5).

"He was amped," catcher Tyler Chancey said. "We just had to calm him down as a team."

Strawberry Crest coach Eric Beattie told Moclair to control his emotions and throw the ball at 80 percent instead of rocketing it as hard as he could. Moclair listened, and the advice worked nearly flawlessly.

His fastball command returned. His curveball was unhittable. Five of his seven strikeouts came in the final four innings.

"I felt a lot more comfortable, a lot more calm," said Moclair, who threw 52 of his 85 pitches for strikes.

A strong defense helped him out as well. Chancey threw out both runners who reached on walks, and shortstop Colin Allman made a key defensive play to preserve the 14th no-hitter in Saladino history.

And, eventually, Strawberry Crest's offense prevailed to spoil strong performances by Raiders pitchers Billy McKay and Miguel Martinez.

Moclair's bloop to center started a seventh-inning rally for the Chargers. Three batters later, Flabio Garcia knocked a two-run double down the leftfield line for the game's first runs.

"Mark kept us in that whole game," Garcia said. "I had to get something on."

Chancey followed with an RBI single to boost the lead to three, setting up Moclair's big moment in the bottom half of the inning.

He forced the first Raider to ground out and struck out the next on three pitches. Then, with his teammates ready to storm the field, he came through with his seventh strikeout of the night.

So after spending the last four innings trying to remain calm, Moclair finally let his emotions escape. He yanked off his cap, pumped his fist and roared into the windy night.

In the later quarterfinal, the Dragons' Jordan Norman outdueled Brandon's Ryan Anderson to put Jefferson in the semifinals.

Norman allowed six hits in his complete-game shutout and relied on a strong Dragons defense to improve to 3-0 this spring.

Jefferson caught an Eagle off the bag at second in the third, and shortstop Jose Cuellar made a highlight-reel play to save a hit and potential run in the fifth.

Anderson was nearly as impressive. He struck out eight batters and didn't allow a hit in the first four innings. But the Eagles' struggles in the fifth were enough.

Jony Gonzalez and Daniel Amonte both singled, and Gonzalez took advantage of two pitches that crashed into the dirt to score the game's only run.

Brandon (8-4) had a chance to force extra innings in the seventh after Teddy Flynn walked and stole second with one out. But Norman notched two of his four strikeouts to preserve the victory.

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