SPRING HILL — At the most critical juncture of the most critical game so far, Nature Coast left-handed reliever Mike Adams became a paradox in pinstripes, a bundle of nerves and courage.
His jitters stemmed from the situation: the Sharks leading Springstead by one run with the bases loaded, two out and a 3-2 count on Eagles No. 2 hitter Brett Maggard in the bottom of the ninth. The courage was revealed by the pitch Adams chose to throw.
A curve that froze Maggard and crossed the plate for a called third strike.
"That was a great pitch," Eagles coach Frank Vitale acknowledged moments after the Sharks' 3-2 triumph, putting them in sole possession of second place in Class 4A, District 8.
"He could've thrown it into the dirt and it wouldn't have been such a great pitch. But that's the chances you take."
Adams' gutsy final throw finished the county's most crisp — and cleanly played — contest of the year. Despite going two extra innings, the game lasted less than 21/2 hours and featured seven-inning, four-hit pitching efforts by Maggard and Nature Coast starter Joe Silvestri.
"That's two very good teams battling it out," Sharks coach Bob Shepard said.
A freshman left-hander, Maggard gave up two runs in the fourth, including Kenny Treverton's leadoff homer, but didn't allow a hit the next three innings. His defensive support included consecutive diving catches by rightfielder Derek Wohlfiel in the fifth.
And how's this for respect: Adams threw Maggard a curve on the last pitch because he was afraid the 14-year-old would nail his fastball. Maggard had fouled off the previous two pitches.
"(Maggard) hits about 350 pitches a day, and he was on my fastball," Adams said. "I knew I wasn't going to get him out with the fastball. If I threw him another one, he probably would've stroked it. He's a great hitter."
Silvestri, meanwhile, struck out eight. His consolation prize for not getting the win — getting the winning RBI.