ST. PETERSBURG — Some day, St. Petersburg Catholic will defeat McKeel Academy in the playoffs and go on to win its first state championship.
For the third time in the past four years, McKeel knocked SPC out of the Class 3A playoffs. Tuesday, the Wildcats earned a 5-3 victory in a game where the Barons fell behind twice, immediately tied the score each time but couldn't rally after falling behind a third time.
It's the second straight year McKeel dropped the Barons in the region final. This one, though, seemed to sting more.
"It used to be Lake Highland Prep," SPC coach Tom Fabian said. "We'd get all the way to them and they'd kick our butts. Then it was Trinity Prep. Now it's McKeel."
Tied 1-all in the sixth inning, McKeel (15-15) took a 3-1 lead after Amber Presto's sacrifice fly scored Taylor Collins and Sam Rydzik singled home Brandi Barnett, who reached on a two-out triple.
It was the same scenario a year ago. The Barons (25-4) battled McKeel evenly early before the Wildcats offense ignited to put the game away late.
The Barons, though, didn't go away easily. In the bottom of the sixth, Nikki Parker led off with a base hit and scored when Bonnie Joyner followed with a standup triple. Shelby Ginty's sacrifice fly brought home Joyner, and suddenly the Barons had new life and a 3-all tie.
McKeel, though, quickly snuffed the Barons' hopes in the seventh. SPC starter Chloe Saganowich walked the first two McKeel batters to start the inning. An SPC error loaded the bases with no outs. After a force at home, McKeel's Cheyenne Benson smacked a liner into rightfield that scored two and gave the Wildcats a 5-3 lead.
Down to its last out in the seventh, the Barons' Madison Saganowich fouled off a handful of two-strike pitches before drawing a walk. Parker ripped a double down the rightfield line that had a chance to score Saganowich and maybe even Parker herself, but the ball rolled through an opening in the Barons' fence for a ground-rule double.
With the tying run in scoring position, Joyner, who had a double and triple in the game, sent a shot down the same path as Parker's double, but Rydzik gobbled up the ball at first to end the game.
"I think everybody would have liked to have that one more game," Fabian said. "That's all we were looking for, just to get past where we were before. But hey, we'll try again."