FORT MYERS — Perhaps riding the momentum on which it had been cruising throughout the postseason, Bloomingdale got off to a good start in Saturday's Class 8A state championship game against Homestead South Dade.
For a team that has struggled getting hits and pushing runs across, a Doug Sandberg leadoff hit followed by a Logan Crouse RBI single was just what the Bulls wanted to see in the first inning of the biggest game in high school baseball.
"When Doug got a hit, I thought this game was ours," senior catcher Jamie Calloway said. "I thought we'd catch the momentum."
They'd been riding it ever since a come-from-behind win against Riverview in the region quarterfinals, and the extra-innings victory against a Plant team, that on paper, should have won handily.
But in the second inning at JetBlue Park, it stopped.
South Dade scored three unanswered runs and the Bulls' incapability of getting timely hitting returned. Bloomingdale lost to the Bucs 3-1.
"We were confident that we were going to be able to get the big hit when we needed it, because we'd been doing it game after game," said Sandberg, who went 1-for-3 with one run scored. "Everybody had to be confident. Everybody had to know what they were doing. We just got ahead of ourselves."
After pitching ace Logan Crouse in Friday's 1-0 state semifinal win against Lake Worth Park Vista, Bloomingdale coach Kris Wilken went with junior right-hander Daylon Owens on Saturday Owens threw 4 2/3 innings, giving up seven hits and striking out one, and looked sharp through most of his outing.
But in the fifth frame, South Dade — which scored the tying run in the second inning on an Alek Manoah RBI single — had a pair of hits to put runners on the corners before scoring the go-ahead run on a wild pitch. The Bucs scored again moments later on a Gabe Cruz RBI single.
Down by two runs with time running out, the Bulls desperately tried to get back their prized momentum. Tommy McLaughlin came in for Owens in the fifth, and Calloway ended a rough inning for the Bulls by making a diving catch for a popup, tumbling into the South Dade dugout as he came down with it.
"That ball that went up in the air, I just wanted to get my heart out and get it, whatever it took, maybe just to fire us up, get some momentum back for us," Calloway said. "I thought it did there at first."
Bloomingdale (21-10) responded in the top of the next frame. Conrado Skepple — who came through just a day before with a walk-off single in the eighth inning to send his Bulls to their first ever state championship game — drew a walk. Crouse did, too.
Austin James followed with a two-out single, but Skepple was caught off base rounding third, and the runners were stranded. It went quickly after that, with South Dade (24-7) and Bloomingdale each going three up, three down to end the game.
Despite barely missing the end goal, it was a season full of unexpected triumphs for the Bulls. The most integral ingredient, though, was no surprise to Wilken.
"We've had some extremely talented teams — more talented than this one — but you can't replace team (chemistry). You cannot replace it. And that's what these guys rode on," Wilken said of the Bulls' improbable postseason run. "I'll take this team over any talented team I've ever had. No doubt, just because of their guts and their chemistry."
Kelly Parsons can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @_kellyparsons.