CLEARWATER — A senior-laden squad can handle situations like Dunedin faced Thursday night.
Playing in the final preliminary game of the 50th Dunedin Baseball Tournament, the Falcons saw their bats quieted by Clearwater Central Catholic lefty Nick DiMiceli through the middle innings but exhibited exceptional defense to stay close.
Then senior Jaydee Marks pounded the door open, slicing a 335-foot shot over the leftfield fence that started a run of five straight baserunners for Dunedin that turned a 3-2 deficit into an eventual 5-3 victory.
“We refused to be put out,” stellar shortstop Ray Sass said. “We just wanted to get to the next guy and do some damage.”
The Brown University commit did his part, going 2-for-2 with a pair of walks while turning in a handful of defensive gems, but things looked grim before the fateful bottom of the seventh inning.
After all, DiMiceli (6.1 innings, two earned runs, three hits, six strikeouts, three walks) was cruising, surviving some shaky second-inning defense and a Connor Russell run-scoring double to put together a stretch that retired 11 of 12 Falcon batters.
This was after the Marauders (3-3) jumped to a quick first-inning advantage on two-out hits from P.J. Stoyan (single scoring Blake Wright) and Dean Mercer (RBI double), then retook the lead in the third when Matthew Rose’s single brought home leadoff batter Anthony Bennetti (single and two-base error).
CCC also turned a pair of early double plays, none better than in the first when sophomore rightfielder Dillon Vann ranged back toward the foul pole to snag Jonathan Hubbard’s deep drive, then fired to second base to double off a retreating Sass.
But when No. 8 batter Marks took a low DiMiceli offering over the fence to tie the score with one out and the bases empty, Dunedin (4-3) wouldn’t let the opportunity slide.
“We work hard on our offense every day,” said Dunedin assistant coach Kevin Kearns, filling in for Ron Sexton, who was called out of town on business. “All of our batting practice rounds are worked with purpose and the kids really buy in to the process.”
Sophomore Russell slashed a single down the third-base line that chased DiMiceli from the hill for reliever Bennetti and brought a string of four straight Falcon seniors to the plate. Chris Johnson was hit with an inside 3-2 fastball, and Sass walked to load the sacks. Hubbard hit a slow chopper, barely beating second baseman Mercer’s throw to score Russell with the eventual winning run. Lake Fisher followed with a sacrifice fly and a key insurance run.
Coming in for determined senior starter Dominic Baratta (six innings of six-hit ball with three Ks), Johnson allowed a harmless Dominick Jannelli single in the bottom of the frame to close out the comeback triumph.
“We work our butts off on defense to give our pitchers outs,” Sass said. “With Lake (at third base, who started a DP of his own while handling five other chances cleanly), we're a brick wall on the left side. It feels great to get the chance to help our pitchers.”
“It seems like we run into Dunedin some time every year, but we want to play them. We want to play East Lake, we want to play good teams,” CCC coach Todd Vaughan said. “At-bats are valuable at this time of the year. We play three or four times a week, our front four batters get four at-bats … that all matters.”
Even with the setback, the Marauders advanced to Friday’s 7 p.m. championship game against East Lake due to the seeding system of the revamped-on-the-fly tourney. IMG will face Indian Rocks Christian at 4 p.m. and Dunedin takes on Boca Ciega also at 4.
When asked who would start on the mound Friday, Vaughan joked: “We'll probably pitch Johnny Wholestaff.
“We don’t have a whole lot of arms. We used P.J. against IRC and Nick so they’re not available, plus we have games on Monday and Tuesday next week. We’ll have to see who can go.”