SARASOTA â" They start at the bottom. They finish you on top.
And so it goes for the Dunedin Falcons and their recession proof lineup, which scored 16 runs to win a game it had to Wednesday night at the Class 5A state semifinals.
Now, the ghosts of 2002 can be placed gently into the casket.
Tonight, with one more win, it can be lowered into the ground.
It was that outstanding team, 32-0 and on the brink of winning Pinellas Countyâs second straight national championship, that has defined the Falcons ever since.
They lost here, in this same spot, in this all important baseball bracket where the current Falcons broke through against Brandon.
A tricky lefty named Ronny Lowe shut them down.
They have yet to live it down.
âGuess what? Itâs a shot,ââ said pitching coach Dennis Duncan, who can ask for nothing more in his final game at Dunedin; he will be leaving for a job on the staff at St. Pete College.
Getting here was just another step for Dunedin, which is looking for its first title since 1964. Thatâs an awfully long time for a program with the Falconâs pedigree.
âWeâre one game away from silencing everyone. One game away, one more good performance,ââ said Clay Kollenbaum, who hit a homer, double and drove in five and is the poster boy for Dunedinâs fiery run.
He was good during the season. Better in the districts. Brilliant in the regionals.
Perfect at the state semifinal.
Just like his team.
âWe got hot at the right time,ââ said pitcher Max Kreuter, who pitched his last game and is now 13-0. âWeâre rolling.ââ
Kollenbaum heads up a top half of the lineup that is tearing it up right now. The Nos. 1-5 hitters hit three homers, scored eight of the runs, drove in 12 of them.
But it starts here, in the top of the second inning, trailing 2-0.
At the bottom.
A guy you may not know, like Ryan Schneider, walks.
A guy youâve barely heard of, Cam Fisher, singles.
A guy who shares a first name with one of the stars but little else, Max Priest, walks.
A guy who plays football, Mike Kumbat, drives in the first run with a fly ball.
Then, you get the top of the order. The guys you do know. The names you recognize.
When trouble arrived for the Brandon pitchers Wednesday night, against the players they had already heard all about, the bases were usually occupied by the guys they handnât.
âWhen you score 16 runs, that means everyone is contributing,ââ said Schneider, the senior catcher who started the two biggest innings by walking and taking one for the team.
After Kumbatâs sacrifice fly, it was Max Kreuterâs three-run homer that gave Dunedin the lead for good.
âIt was Ryan Schniederâs that set it up with his at bat,ââ said coach Tom Hilbert. âKreuterâs home run was the momentum changer.ââ
Kreuter, the University of Tampa-bound lefty, weaved the Falcons into and out of trouble on the hill all night, but in the end, he only allowed a few meaningless runs.
In his final high school pitching performance, he fought through a slightly pulled groin, more than 100 pitches, to get to his last one.
The next inning, the guys â" Schneider, Fisher, Priest, Kumbat â" were at it again, setting up six more runs, putting the finishing touches on the 16-3 rout.
From the bottom, to a chance to finish on top.