FORT MYERS — Despite passing the 100-pitch threshold, David Paul still felt good.
He had bulldogged his way through seven innings of Monday’s Class 3A state baseball semifinal. Struggled with his control at times. Worked into trouble, then right out of it.
Through seven innings, he had stranded seven and picked off another.
What was one more inning, two more baserunners, one more jam for a kid who probably had the best baseball season in Pinellas County this year?
“If I’m in a game I gotta win,” said Clearwater Central Catholic coach Todd Vaughan, “that’s the guy I want throwing for me.”
But fastballs aren’t always fast enough, and in Paul’s case, curve balls don’t always curve enough.
The right-handed junior didn’t know it at the time, but the last bender of his hugely successful season was cleared for takeoff at JetBlue Park.
“He made a good swing,” Paul said, “like he knew it was coming.”
Casey Cribb’s towering eighth-inning home run cleared the Green Monster Jr. in left, and the Marauders were denied a spot in the state final after a disheartening 3-1 loss to Jacksonville Providence.
The loss was 10 years to the day that CCC went extra innings at state, losing 1-0 in the 2003 championship.
CCC lost Monday’s semifinal because Cribb made the best swing of the game, and the Marauders didn’t. Mighty Casey’s at-bat will be remembered, and the missed opportunities on offense will be hard to forget.
CCC filled the bases in the first inning and the third, and couldn’t score, and had a runner thrown out at the plate — when it looked like he would surely score — on a brilliant scoop and throw by the second baseman.
By the time the Marauders scored the one run they needed to win in regulation , it was already the eighth inning and no longer enough.
For the game, CCC stranded 10.
“We had our chances,” Vaughan said. “We needed a hit here and there. ”
Paul kept CCC in the game, as he has all season. He boasted an 11-0 record entering the semifinal and allowed only 33 hits in 74 innings .
He hit two batters in the first inning Monday and survived loading the bases. He let the first two batters in the fourth reach, then picked one off. He stranded a runner at second in the fifth, and had two runners on in the sixth with one out.
“You go back to some of the guys we’ve had and he’s right in the line,” Vaughan said. “Just grind and gritty and mean and dirty and everything.”
Paul started the eighth with a groundout, but walked the next batter.
Then, he made the one throw that was probably worse than the curve ball — a pickoff attempt that sailed wide and let David Boyle make it to third base with one out.
Vaughan had pitchers ready, but he trusted Paul, who hit the next batter.
The Marauders’ defense, which had been so good all day as shortstop Benito Mendizabal and second baseman Derek Gibree made a series of great plays, was eager for a double-play grounder.
Cribb, who had reached all three times up — two hits and a walk — strode to the plate. Hoping to minimize any potential damage that could result from loading the bases, Vaughan told his ace to go get ’em.
Paul’s curve ball was a bait pitch Monday. He struggled to find the strike zone with it, so he used it to get batters to swing at bad pitches. After throwing a strike, Paul tried another one.
“I didn’t think he’d hit a curve ball out of the park, honestly,” Paul said.
Paul didn’t join Vaughan in the postgame news conference. Afterward, just outside the park as his team prepared to head home, he didn’t have many words to describe what happened.
Vaughan stood right there with his player, ready to squeeze the kid’s shoulder if he needed it.
“It was a great accomplishment getting here,” said Paul , shaking his head and averting his pink eyes, “but we know we should be playing (Tuesday).”
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JohnnyHomeTeam.