DOVER — The Strawberry Crest baseball team entered the Saladino Tournament on a roll, and reaching the tourney semifinals makes the Chargers playoff contenders.
An eight-game win streak leading to the semifinal included stand-out victories: a 3-2 regular-season shocker against Durant on the Cougars' home field and a 4-1 win over previously unbeaten Steinbrenner in the Saladino that put the Chargers into the quarterfinals.
Strawberry Crest coach Eric Beattie appreciated how his young team responded in a pressurized situation against Steinbrenner.
"That game, there was such an increased sense of focus; the whole team had it," said Beattie, who has coached the team in each of its four years. "It was good to see."
Strawberry Crest followed that with a 4-1 quarterfinal defeat of King before losing 2-1 in eight innings to Jefferson in the semis.
But the Chargers haven't found as much success in district play. The Saladino win over King doesn't count toward the Class 6A, District 11, standings, and it lost to the Lions on Tuesday as Lions ace Brett Morales outdueled the Chargers' Austin Boatright for a 1-0 win.
King went to 5-0 in the district while the Chargers, though a glowing 11-5 overall, are now 2-3 in district play. In last year's district semifinal, with Strawberry Crest one win away from a first-ever playoff spot, Morales blanked them 1-0.
After Tuesday's game the Chargers have four who have started a contest — Boatright, Tanner Thompson, Harold Welch and Cory Smith — all pitching in the 17-25 inning range. Boatright's outing was just the second complete game of the year for Strawberry Crest.
Smith, a freshman, leads the team in innings pitched.
Hitting has been pretty well spread out too but with a few standouts, led by Matt Collado, who had a pair of three-hit games at Saladino to raise his batting average to .440. Jeff Murray also holds an average over .400.
Add freshman Logan Fernandez to the list of youngsters who have been surprisingly effective.
"Just his eyes, you can see it … he can go down 0-2 against a good pitcher, and where it's real easy for some young players to give up in that situation, he'll move the runner over or do whatever it takes," Beattie said.
And though he doesn't have the gaudy average, senior Dustin Lawson has been a go-to guy in clutch situations.
So now that they've established respect, the charge for the Chargers is clear, and that's to make the playoffs. King and Jefferson both loom in 6A-11, and Leto, Sickles and even last-place Armwood are all respectable.
The Chargers get another crack at King in a home game April 5.
"I want to get hotter than we are, make it continue to the end of April," Beattie said. "No male team has won a district title at Strawberry Crest. We want to do that. These kids deserve that."
Darek Sharp can be reached at [email protected]