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FALCONS COMEBACK MAKES MEMORIES

This week, the Times' preps staff reflects on the best high school sporting event each writer covered in the 2009-10 school year.

Baseball, April 3: Dunedin 8, East Lake 7

Championship games in spring baseball tournaments are not always memorable. By the time the final comes around, teams have already gone through most of their pitching.

The Dunedin Spring Invitational final was not thrilling if you were looking for a close contest - at least through the first 6-1/2 innings.

East Lake, which played well throughout the tournament, continued its roll in the final against the host Falcons. The Eagles jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, then scored four more runs in the top of the seventh inning, all with two outs.

It seemed over.

About the most memorable thing to that point was that it appeared East Lake would finally get past its nemesis, Dunedin, for the first time in five years and win the tournament for the first time since 2007.

I remember sitting in the press box at Dunedin Stadium, turning to another reporter and saying:

"Wouldn't it be wild if Dunedin came back."

Then wild things started happening.

The first came with a pitching change. Eagles starter Sawyer Wilson, who allowed just six hits and held the Falcons scoreless through six innings, was relieved in the bottom of the seventh by Austin Bembnowski. He walked Kyle Kunnen, forced Alex Libby to fly out and hit Mike Tipton with a pitch.

That gave Dunedin some life. Soon after, the Falcons scored.

Then they scored again.

And again.

And ...

By the time the final run crossed the plate, the Falcons had completed one of the greatest comebacks in tournament history, scoring eight runs to win 8-7.

In all, Dunedin sent nine batters up, had five hits and took advantage of two errors.

The big hits included run-scoring doubles by Chase Smith and Ben Emery, and a two-run single by Casey Turgeon.

Smith, the tournament MVP, drew a bases-loaded walk on a full count off Brian Johnson to bring home Kunnen for the winning run.

Afterward, there were no pileups at home plate, no hats tossed in jubilation. It seemed as if both teams were still in disbelief at how the end unfolded.

It was hard not feel bad for East Lake. The Eagles lost so many close games to district opponents in the final few innings. But nothing compared to this one.

Still, I was impressed with East Lake's resolve.

A week later, the Eagles had to come back to Dunedin for a regular-season game. Once again, the Eagles jumped to a big lead. Once again, Dunedin rallied.

Only this time, the comeback was never completed. East Lake held on for an elusive victory against its rival.

And I just missed out on another great comeback. It turns out those only happen once in a great while.

* * *

FAST FACTS

Other contest-of-the-year candidates

More games that almost made Bob Putnam's final cut.

1. Boys basketball: Lakewood 69, Pinellas Park 65 (OT): The Spartans erased a nine-point deficit in the final minute of regulation, then won the game in overtime.

2. Football: Lakewood 31, Countryside 20: Bernard Reedy put on a show with 106 yards rushing, 69 receiving and a kickoff return for a touchdown.

3. Boys basketball: Largo 74, Boca Ciega 66 (OT): The Packers rallied from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to send the district semifinal game into overtime before winning.

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