DUNEDIN — For a team with such a rich history of success, it's hard to imagine there's something Dunedin hasn't accomplished.
As a 12-time region champion, the Falcons have never played in four straight region finals. That is, until this year.
Playing Lake Wales for the third straight season at Dunedin Stadium on a humid Tuesday night, the experienced host squad applied just enough pressure to crack the Highlanders. With starting pitcher Tyler Vogel dialed in over the final three innings, Dunedin pulled away for a come-from-behind 5-2 victory in the Class 6A region semifinals.
And next up for the 19-10 Falcons is a Tuesday date at Barron Collier as the Naples school pulled out a lightning-delayed 4-3 decision over Cape Coral Mariner.
That opportunity, as well as Dunedin's two-game win streak over Lake Wales (24-7), seemed in jeopardy when the visitors countered Lake Fisher's two-out RBI single in the bottom of the third inning with two big runs of their own in the fourth.
But Vogel, who had allowed multiple runners In two of the first four innings he worked, buckled down.
"I really trust my defense, my catcher (Tyler Bews) has been calling great games since I was a freshman," the senior ace said. "It's very cool to see how we've grown."
Backed by a slickly-turned double play in the second inning and an athletic catch by first baseman Jonathan Hubbard that shut down Lake Wales' fourth-inning rally, Vogel (four hits, three walks, two hit batters and two strikeouts) gave the offense a chance to shine by allowing just two base runners over the final three frames.
The reward to Dunedin's season-long attention to detail came in the fifth. Brock Cunningham flared an opposite-field base hit to left, then stole second. Ray Sass laid down such a perfect bunt to third base that he reached with a single and stole second without a throw.
Lake Wales coach Don Bridges brought in lefty Ben Gilbert to face a scuffling Chris Johnson, but the leadoff batter drove a 1-2 offering through a drawn-in infield and up the middle for a two-run single.
"With no outs, runners on, I've just got to get the ball in play. Get it through and my guys are going to score," Johnson said.
"We work on situational hitting in our batting practice rounds," Dunedin head coach Ron Sexton said. "Hit-and-run, bunting. … I'm really proud to see that two-strike approach play out with some clutch hitting, especially in the postseason."
Dunedin added some insurance in the sixth when Marcus Brodil (two hits) singled, went to third on a throwing error and scored on Tristan Morton's hit.
With another shot at a region title, and possibly a return to the state final four, Vogel expressed pride at being the pitcher that got Dunedin to this opportunity.
"It feels amazing. It's honestly like a dream come true," Vogel said. "I became a full-time pitcher when I was in ninth grade, and to see where I've come. … It's awesome to see."