FORT MYERS — Throughout its run to the Class 7A state final, East Lake managed to get timely base hits and avoid big innings. That pattern ended Saturday night against Hialeah American.
East Lake gave up four fourth-inning runs and could not dig out of the hole in an eventual 5-2 loss at JetBlue Park. This was the second time East Lake has finished second in the state tournament; it also happened in 2002. This is American's first state championship in baseball.
"The fourth inning got away from us a little bit," East Lake coach Dan Genna said. "(Starting pitcher) Ryan (Wall) went through the order no problem the first time around and then he gave up some hits. In high school baseball, 80 percent of the time the team with that big inning is going to win it."
Wall cruised through the first three innings but things fell apart in the fourth. East Lake looked like it might avoid trouble when Keegan Maronpot threw out Kevin Williams at third base for the inning's first out. Willliams reached second on a misplayed line drive to rightfield. But after an Eric Gonzalez stolen base, Romy Gonzalez doubled to leftfield for the game's first run. It was also the first hit of the game for the Patriots.
Steven Alvarez then singled in Romy Gonzalez to make it 2-0. One out and one walk later, Jake Norman doubled off the leftfield wall to make it 4-0. Wall was pulled and Riley Choate came in to get the final out.
Wall pitched 3.2 innings and allowed three hits and four runs.
"After we got that first out (in the fourth) I thought we had a chance to get out of it," Maronpot said. "I always think we have a chance. We're that kind of team."
American (28-6) tacked on to its lead in the fifth inning. Romy Gonzalez got a two-out single off reliever Cameron Churchill that drove in Edison Cabrera to make it 5-0.
East Lake (22-10) made some noise in the sixth and seventh innings. Christian James and Brad Deppermann were both hit by pitches in the sixth, which put runners on first and second with one out. Ian Lisle, who had three hits, singled past second base to score James. Deppermann then scored on a wild pitch by Alex Blanco to make it 5-2.
Blanco was removed after striking out Maronpot for the second out. Andy Figueroa relieved, and his first pitch to Nick DeSantis was popped to first base to end the inning.
In the seventh, Sawyer Wirth led off with a walk. One out later, Churchill singled up the middle to put runners on first and second. But Christian James struck out for the second out and Andrew Prozzillo flew out to second base to end the game.
"I honestly thought we had a chance to come back," Lisle said. "We've done it all year. But things just didn't fall in place for us."
During its run to the final, East Lake played four extra-inning games, including 13 innings Friday night in the semifinal against Kissimmee Osceola. Genna said he was hoping his team had one last comeback in it.
"We've been through so many of these battles this season," Genna said. "They fought, which what they know how to do. I was actually hoping it would go extra innings. We're 5-0 in extra innings this season. But, hey, one more hit our way and it's a different game."
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @RodneyHomeTeam.