It was the top of the fourth in the Class 3A semifinal, and Fort Myers Bishop Verot was trailing by three to Miami Gulliver Prep, the No. 10 team in the nation.
Just over the leftfield wall, seven buses filled with Vikings supporters pulled up to a stoplight on Dale Mabry Highway. An eighth pulled up at the end of the caravan, but it appeared to be empty. That it turned out, was the one carrying Bishop Verot's missing offense.
A half-inning later, the contents of those buses spilled into Legends Field. Hundreds of black-and-yellow-clad fans took their seats, increasing the noise in the stadium.
Almost simultaneously, the Vikings knocked Gulliver starter Adam Acosta around for four hits and three runs, tying the game and giving Bishop Verot new hope. The next inning, the Vikings capitalized on a rare Raider error and took the lead for good as they cruised to an 8-3 upset and a spot in today's championship game.
"When you look up and see hundreds of kids piling into the stadium and starting to get loud, it's a big uplift," pitcher Chandler Rose said. "I can't even describe what it feels like to have that kind of support behind you."
The buses were late because of wildfires in Sarasota County, which closed I-75 and U.S. 41.
While Bishop Verot (25-11) scraped out runs, Gulliver (29-5), an offensive powerhouse that looked primed to blow out the Vikings early, hit a dry spell. Part of that can be attributed to Rose.
The senior pitched a complete game, scattering seven hits and striking out six.
Eustis edges Marianna 2-1
TAMPA _ The problem for Marianna was apparent after Eustis' Travis Rios threw his first strikes.
As players and coaches later said, Rios "had very good stuff." Fastball. Curveball. Changeup. It didn't matter what he threw. Marianna, which lost 2-1, couldn't get good aluminum on the ball.
"I could see in the early innings that (Marianna) was going to have to work hard to score," Eustis coach David Lee said. "Any time you have Travis Rios on the mound, you have a chance to win, but today, he was really on."
Marianna did get five hits, but all were weak except for Alan Horne's solo homer in the fourth.
Besides that, Marianna (25-6) didn't seriously threaten.
Eustis (28-8) didn't exactly tear the cover off the ball either. The Panthers got just five hits and had to manufacture its runs, both of which came in the fourth.
Matt Armstrong started by slicing a double down the rightfield line. Rios then hit an RBI single and advanced to second when the leftfielder bobbled the ball.
After another error, Rios scored on a suicide squeeze.
The victory puts Eustis in the state final for the first time in school history and ended Marianna's bid to repeat.
"I really thought this might be a breakout game for us," Marianna coach Scott Miller said. "We've been hitting the ball really well lately. But today, (Rios) really kept us off balance. He was in control."
_ SCOTT PURKS