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Mustangs rally to win marathon

MERRITT ISLAND 6, TATE 4 (10): The Mustangs overcome a 4-0 deficit in the 5A semifinal.

Midway through Merritt Island's Class 5A state semifinal with Gonzalez Tate at Legends Field, its heralded pitcher had been yanked, its bats had produced one hit, its infield had committed three errors and it trailed 4-0.

Little did Tate know Merritt Island had it right where it wanted.

Before Tate could savor its lead, Merritt Island rallied to tie the game at 4, and in the 10th inning, it ended the three-hour battle by scoring twice for a 6-4 win.

"I didn't ever think we were out of it," Merritt Island coach Chuck Goldfarb said. "I believe in these guys."

The win sends Merritt Island to its second Class 5A state final in a row. The Mustangs (29-4) beat Venice 6-4 in the 1999 championship game.

Justin Barnes started Merritt Island's 10th-inning rally with a single to right off Rodney Story (4-2). Two batters later, Jeff Howell smacked a ground-rule double to right that scored Barnes for a 5-4 lead. Bryan Stanton followed with a single to left that brought Howell in and gave Merritt Island a two-run cushion.

Barnes (5-1), who pitched 6 innings of scoreless relief after replacing starter Kevin Deaton, retired Tate in order in the bottom of the inning.

"I don't think there's any team that can beat us with four runs," Deaton said.

Tate (27-7) came close.

The Aggies scored four times in the fourth on five hits and one Merritt Island error to chase Deaton, who came in with a 12-1 record. Les Taylor drove in one run, and Derell McCall brought home two in the inning. Tate went up 4-0 one batter later on a Merritt Island error.

The Mustangs answered with two runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth. Then the teams traded scoreless innings until the 10th.

Tate, which left 13 men on base, had several chances to win.

"We had opportunity after opportunity, and we did not capitalize," Tate coach Greg Blackmon said.

Deaton, who had what he described as a career-worst outing, can redeem himself in today's final, a game he likely will start.