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Region baseball: Heartbreak late for Lakewood

The Spartans have to make a pitching change early, then falter late in a 3-2 loss to Melbourne Central Catholic.

ST. PETERSBURG — A fielding error in the sixth inning led to the game-winning run for Melbourne Central Catholic, which beat Lakewood 3-2 Wednesday in their Class 5A region final at Lake Vista Sports Complex.

Lakewood’s season ends at 17-12.

“We said in a game like this, the team that didn’t make the mistakes was going to win,” Spartans coach Jayce Ganchou said. “Unfortunately we made the mistakes.”

Spartans reliever Malaki Roberts, pitching in his sixth inning of relief, walked Caleb Smallwood, who stole second. Still it looked like Lakewood would escape the half of the inning when reliever Cody Little got Derick Cantres to pop up in the infield. But the ball got caught in the breeze to make the play difficult and no one could make the catch.

Smallwood, racing around third, was able to beat the throw and score to put the Hustlers ahead 3-2.

That was enough for MCC starter Nick Durgin, who retired the final 11 batters he faced and struck out five of the final six Lakewood batters who came to the plate.

The Spartans came out the gate strong and put up two runs in the bottom of the first inning. Jeremy Texel and Dontae Mitchell led off the inning with a back-to-back singles to put runners at the corners. Oliver Hahn made it 1-0 when he grounded into a fielder’s choice. Anthony Melendez made it 2-0 with an RBI single.

Lakewood starter Scott Germak got through the first inning clean but appeared to be laboring during his at-bat in the bottom of the first. Germak walked the first batter he faced in the top of the second and Ganchou wasted no time in removing the staff ace.

“It’s something with his lower back,” Ganchou said. “And I’m not going to risk it here. Why? He’s a junior and he’s got a bright future in this game. He’ll be back. He was not happy about it but his health is most important.”

Roberts came in and escaped the second inning but MCC touched him in the third to tie the score on an RBI single that Smallwood turned into a two-run play after a fielding error. MCC continued to apply pressure, but Roberts came up big time after time. He pitched out of a jam with runners on second and third in the fourth inning and escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth.

“Malaki knew he was going to come in to shut it down if Scott pitched his normal game,” Ganchou said. “But things happen and he had to come in early and he was amazing.”

In the seventh inning, Roberts got the first two outs and looked like he was going to retire the side in order but he didn’t get the call on a close 2-2 pitch to Smallwood and eventually he walked him and was removed after 5 2/3 innings of relief.

“It was a strange ride; our three pitchers got us through the season,” Ganchou said. “We’re young. We have a lot of sophomores I’m excited about. We’ll miss the five seniors that are leaving. This was a special group.”