BRANDON — Jamal Wilson had already burst into a full sprint toward first base when he heard one of his coaches scream “Run!”
The Jefferson catcher had flubbed a pop-up at home plate behind Wilson, who made it in safely before a throw could even be made to the first baseman.
Already in the midst of a personal-best streak of good fortune, Wilson knew the game was finally Bloomingdale’s to win. Again.
“As soon as that went our way,” Wilson said, “I knew it was meant to be.”
Wilson’s premonition was validated minutes later when Josh Mote drove him in with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth Friday, clinching Bloomingdale’s first Saladino Tournament title since 1995 in a 3-2 victory over Jefferson.
The Bulls (10-4) won the tournament for the third time in school history, avenging a loss last year to Jefferson in the championship game.
But the Bloomingdale team that advanced to the title game last spring was a senior-laden bunch that included all-tournament selections Richie Martin and Nolan Schrenker. The only all-Saladino returnee for these Bulls was Florida International signee Cody Crouse.
And the 6-foot-6 Crouse got the start in the final, much as he did in last year’s 5-3 defeat against the Dragons (9-4).
Crouse was again an imposing figure on the mound, allowing two runs — one earned — on eight hits with 10 strikeouts through seven innings.
Headed into the seventh, Crouse seemed poised to earn the win that eluded him in the previous year. The Bulls held a one-run lead and Crouse had struck out the previous three batters, seemingly getting stronger into the night.
Twice, Crouse was only a strike from living out his dream of celebrating from the bottom of a pile on the mound.
But as adrenaline surged through him, the ball kept missing the strike zone and Jefferson managed to tie the game at 2. The Dragons got on the board when Bulls third baseman Justin Ambrosino bobbled a two-out grounder from Daniel Almonte and didn’t connect on the throw to first, allowing Gabriel Selochan to score.
Bulls coach Kris Wilken went out to the mound to check on his right-handed ace.
“I told him that I wasn’t there to take the ball from him,” Wilken said. “I just wanted him to settle down and to let him finish.”
Crouse went on to strike out the next hitter, sending the game into extra innings.
“I calmed down a bit because I was about to go crazy,” Crouse said. “But I’m so glad these guys came back and did it and we got the win. That’s all that matters.”
That set the stage for Wilson, who was selected Saladino Tournament MVP, to earn the win in the eighth.
Only two days after throwing 108 pitches in an 8-6 win over Brandon, Wilson managed to get through the tense eighth inning despite walking the first batter and allowing the next two to get on base.
He clinched the victory in the bottom half, when Mote brought him home on the sacrifice fly to deep right.
“Baseball is one of those funny games where things have to go your way,” Wilson said. “And they all worked my way this tournament.”
MVP: Jamal Wilson, Bloomingdale
Best defensive player: Nick Brocato, Strawberry Crest
Best hitter: Nelson Maldonado, Jefferson
Catcher: Jesse Haney, Steinbrenner
First baseman: Jake Gagain, Newsome
Infielders: Matthew Collado, Strawberry Crest; Tyler Danish, Durant; Ryan Kelley, Bloomingdale
Outfielders: Kyle Tucker, Plant; Nelson Maldonado, Jefferson; Jamal Wilson, Bloomingdale; Eric Hinostroza, Brandon
Pitchers: Cody Crouse, Bloomingdale; Jonathon Diaz, Jefferson; Alex Faedo, Alonso
Designated hitter: Justin Ambrosino, Bloomingdale
Home Run Derby winner: Zack Sabo, Robinson