FORT MYERS — On Friday night at Hammond Stadium, Clearwater Calvary Christian found itself on the exact same field, facing the very same team from one year ago. The Warriors were quite familiar with their Class 4A state semifinal opponent, Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian.
A little too familiar, if you ask Warriors third baseman Tommy White.
On May 24, 2018, the Eagles beat the Warriors in the championship game, and in the process, snapped their record-breaking 60-game win streak.
In the year since that game, White said, they thought about the Eagles often.
“There was a lot of hype. It was revenge,” White said. “We waited 365 days for this game. We were playing our season for this game right here.”
But perhaps all that extra thinking made the Warriors even more prepared for Friday’s rematch. Clearwater Calvary Christian jumped on the Eagles early, and left-hander Nolan Hudi’s complete-game outing led a defense that turned two crucial double plays to lead the Warriors to a 3-1 victory.
The Eagles will play Delray Beach American Heritage (29-2), ranked eighth in the state by MaxPreps, in Saturday’s 4A state championship game. Calvary is ranked sixth in the state.
It looked as though the Warriors (25-4) might be in for a challenge at the plate in the early going, as Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian starter Andy Painter struck out the first two batters he faced. But White followed with a double, and Vince Smith did the same, putting the Warriors on the board. Pierce Chambers made it two with a single to shallow leftfield.
Calvary Christian scored its third and final run on a squeeze bunt in the third inning.
“I found a curveball that he hung, two strikes, and I just put it down the third base line,” White said of his first-inning double. “We needed to score early ... just to put them down right away, so they knew we meant business.”
The Warriors only had two hits after the first frame. Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian (25-5) replaced Painter with Skylar Gonzalez in the third, and Gonzalez retired the last nine batters he faced.
But if the Eagles’ defense was good, Clearwater Calvary Christian’s was even better.
Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian put a run on the board with the help of a single and two walks in the first, scoring on a double steal. But after that, Hudi only got stronger, striking out six and stranding eight Eagles along the way.
“That’s just who he is, and it’s what he does,” coach Greg Olsen said about Hudi, a TCU commit. “Our team and program know that every single time he goes out there he’s going to pitch with his heart.”
In the bottom of the seventh, Hudi needed just one more out to end the game and send his team to Saturday’s state championship game when Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian leadoff hitter Dante Girardi stepped up.
Girardi had a hit every other time he came to bat Friday, so it was only fitting that Hudi’s last high school out might be his toughest.
It was a long at-bat, but Hudi, who took his time and several deep breaths, didn’t waver.
“I was in the moment, loving it. I would throw a million more pitches if I could,” Hudi said, who got the out on a flyball to centerfield. “I really wanted to face (Girardi) one more time to prove myself, and I did. He was the guy to beat tonight.”
Ask anyone else, and they would say — for the final time as a Warrior — that distinction belonged to Hudi.
At Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers. Admission is $9 per day (advance) or $12 (day of); parking is $10.
Class 4A: Calvary Christian vs. Delray Beach American Heritage, 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Class 8A: Strawberry Crest vs. Lakeland George Jenkins, 4 p.m. Wednesday
Class 8A: Plant City vs. McArthur, 7 p.m. Wednesday
Class 6A: Lynn Haven Mosley vs. Dunedin, 10 a.m. Friday
Class 6A: Jesuit vs. Miami Springs, 1 p.m. Friday
Class 7A: Doral Academy vs. Leto, 7 p.m. Friday