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Cowboys overcome Eagles in final at-bat

Gaither's Eric Thompson is surprised to be pitched a fastball, and promptly slaps it into leftfield for the game-winning hit.

With the game tied 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Gaither senior catcher Eric Thompson belted a single into leftfield to bring home the winning run, giving the Cowboys (9-3) a 5-4 win over Brandon in the first round of the Saladino Tournament at Jefferson.

Heading into the seventh, Brandon led 4-3. But after starting pitcher Ryan Spence walked the first batter, Eagles coach Greg Parris turned to relief pitcher Josh Sawyer.

The next batter, Mike Russo, pushed a bunt down the first-base line. Sawyer picked up the ball and overthrew first baseman Angel Sustache, allowing Kris Howell to round the bases and score the tying run.

With pinch-runner Mike Lezcano on second, Thompson, who went 2-for-2, expected Sawyer to pitch around him.

"I was surprised that they would pitch to me," Thompson said. "All I was looking for was a base hit. I wasn't looking to hit the ball out of the park, just out of the infield."

Instead, Sawyer threw a fastball that Thompson belted into leftfield, bringing Lezcano home. Spence, who was moved to leftfield, tried to make a play at the plate, but catcher Ben See had to lunge to the left while Lezcano slid in beneath him.

"Usually Eric gets curveballs," Gaither coach Frank Permuy said. "He's been frustrated this year because they either pitch around him or throw him curveballs. But it looked like (Sawyer) tried to sneak a fastball by him to change things up."

Pitching was sloppy for both teams. Spence pitched 6

innings, giving up four hits while walking five and striking out eight. Gaither's Chris Delany (3-2) gave up nine hits, walked one and struck out seven.

"Both pitchers started off slow," Permuy said. "They aren't used to the balls in the Saladino Tournament, which are professional. The ones we use have a higher seam. Both pitchers had to adjust on the fly."

In other first-round action Saturday at Jefferson, the host Dragons used a six-run third inning to upset defending tournament champion Plant 6-5. The Panthers are ranked 30th in the nation by Baseball America.

As for Sickles, the Gryphons opened the tournament by dominating Hillsborough 15-2.

At the University of Tampa, King defeated Bloomingdale 9-0.