TAMPA — This season, Carrollwood Day knows a thing or two about winning close games. Prior to their Class 3A region final matchup with Lakeland Christian on Tuesday, the Patriots had won nine by just one run, including a district championship victory against the Vikings themselves just a couple weeks ago.
Early in the win-or-go-home rematch, it seemed as if Carrollwood Day would have to slide by once again.
For five innings, CDS led by just one run, as the Vikings threatened to even the score frame after frame. But with Gabriel Partridge on the mound, catcher Noah Torres didn't worry for a second.
"It's no sweat, no sweat," Torres said. "He and I have been working together for three years. The kid is crazy accurate. We're battle tested, and there's nothing better."
That much was clear in Partridge's complete-game outing, as the senior struck out eight and never let a Viking past second base, giving the Patriots time to add insurance runs in the sixth and win the game 4-0. CDS will advance to next week's 3A state semifinal in Fort Myers for the program's first final four appearance in school history.
The Patriots (24-3) wasted no time before getting ahead, scoring in the first inning when Blake Hooker stole second and Rodrigo Montenegro stole home on the throw. For a while, though, that was the only offense of note CDS could muster. The Vikings (19-11) went on to strand Hooker on third, and two more Patriots in the same position in the third and fifth innings.
"We left a small village on base today, to be honest with you," coach Ken Akins said. "It was frustrating a little bit to not get that big two-out hit. But then you go back to Gabe on the mound. I just go in (the dugout) and I take my spot and I just watch."
And all night, Akins liked what he saw.
Partridge gave up just four hits on the night, and only twice did the Vikings get a runner in scoring position. In the fifth, with a runner on second, the Patriots' ace faced a dire 3-2 count. But Partridge remained calm, Akins said, and trusted his stuff, striking out the batter on the very next pitch.
"I was just hitting my spots all night, really," Partridge said. "(That) 3-2 count, which was huge, I threw him a curveball, and my curveball was on today. I just felt good."
Finally, in the sixth inning, Lakeland Christian's starter began to falter, and once they went to the bullpen — comprised of pitchers the Patriots had seen multiple times before this season — CDS made a breakthrough on offense, scoring three runs on a bases-loaded walk and RBI from Torres and Frank Furey.
Now, the Patriots are just one more Partridge start away from a state championship berth, a fact that has Akins shaking his head when he considers just how far his team has come.
"Some of these kids have battled through the growing process with this baseball program, to where they were in eighth grade and we were everybody's senior day game," Akins said. "To be able to establish our name as a baseball powerhouse in the area now is fantastic. … We finally got over that hump."