The Crusaders jumped on starting pitcher senior Charlie Lamar early and often. TC senior Nick Perez led off with a double to right field, senior Nick Alfonso moved him to second on a bunt, senior Nicco Millan flied out, then senior Gio Marrero drove in Perez. The Crusaders sent two across in the first inning, one across in the second, two across in the third and gradually wore down a hot Marauder team.
CCC was only able to send across two runs in the second inning off sophomores Johnny Karaphillis and Benny Mendizabal hits; then only one across in the fourth inning off a wild pitch.
TC was out-hitting, out-maneuvering and basically exerting their will over first, senior Charlie Lamar, then junior Carlos Dohse. Senior Dave Slattery came in and kind of stabilized things in the sixth inning but all the breaks were going TC’s way.
It wasn’t all breaks either. The TC coaching staff was razor sharp and the Crusaders were coming through in key moments of the game.
Pressure spot number one: third inning, two outs, senior JC Prado comes up with runners on second and third and cracks a single to left field, driving in two runs.
Fate had taken its first shot on CCC.
Pressure spot number two: fifth inning, CCC is up to bat, down 3-7. Senior Eric Simone comes up to the plate with bases loaded and one out. TC Coach Pat Russo goes to the bullpen. Everyone is thinking he’s going to go to his big right-hander, senior Ian Ham to get Simone. He brings out lefty Luke Helms and Helms get Simone to strikeout. Then Helms throws one in to senior Jeff Campbell who in his first at-bat hit a foul ball about 375 feet down the first base line and in his second crushed a double to right-center; Campbell destroyed a pitch that lasered in between first and second base, right into the glove of TC second-baseman, Nick Perez.
Fate landed a body blow to The Marauders.
“There were points in the game where I was thinking, ‘we can’t catch a break, I don’t know if it’s in the cards for us tonight’”, said CCC Head Coach Todd Vaughan.
Tampa Catholic added their eighth run in the top of the sixth inning off a throwing error by CCC’s Dave Slattery and things looked just about wrapped up with the box score 8-3 Tampa Catholic with 15 hits to six hits for CCC. The Marauders had a few errors to add to the mix, a couple unearned runs. Everyone was wondering where they would be traveling next Tuesday as the No. 2 district seed; everyone except the people in the Marauder dugout.
Campbell was furious after that line-out to second base. There are two types of athletes that deal with anger in a game. One that tenses up and frustration takes over the anger and the thought of, “Can I do it?” enters into their head. While a second kind channels that anger into their bat and says to themselves, “I must do it!”
Campbell is the latter of the two and The Marauders feed off of that energy.
Senior Seth Paitsel got a walk to start the 6th inning and you’d have thought he hit a homerun the dugout got so animated. Johnny Karaphillis grounded out but moved Paitsel to second. Paitsel took third on a wild pitch and Benny Mendizabal legged out an infield hit that sent Paitsel across the plate to close the score to 4-8. Ryan Hallam got up and hit a single to right field, setting up Junior Carter Cashman at the top of the order with runners on first and second with just one out.
Again, TC Coach Russo went to the bullpen. This time, for sure he was bringing in Ham to close out the inning and hopefully the game. Nope. He brings in five-foot-five senior right-hander Keith Garcia. The tension in the air was palpable. A base hit here would change the game’s dynamic completely.
Fate would deliver a left-hook to the temple and get CCC on the ropes.
Pressure spot number three: Carter Cashman got a hold of a pitch and lined it deep into left field. TC junior left-fielder(and left-handed) Billy Endris took off after it. The ball was tailing away from him as he dove to his left. If the ball went under his glove and to the wall, both runners on base would have scored but Endris came up with it as a collective groan shot from the bleachers.
If the air went out of the place, nobody told senior catcher Steven Arango. Arango stepped up and smoked the first good pitch he saw over the right field wall. That added three more runs and the place went bananas. The dugout cleared and gave Arango a welcome at the plate.
Finally, CCC hit back and hard.
Problem was, it was still 8-7 Tampa Catholic.
Junior Ray Fox drew a walk for The Marauders and suddenly the tying run was on base. Senior Eric Simone came up with two outs; again in a pressure spot. Again, Crusader Coach Russo went to the bullpen, this time to the six-foot-six closer, Ian Ham.
Pressure spot number four: Ham is scary coming down at your with those tree-branch arms and he got Simone to go down swinging. TC catcher, Gio Marrero didn’t come up with the ball on strike three and it looked like he might have interfered with Simone’s right to try to run to first base.
It was a tough call but again it went TC’s way as the dugout cleared to welcome in Ham for helping them escape the sixth inning.
Only now CCC had re-gained their wits and were hitting back.
Campell hung tough and earned a two-strike walk to lead off the 7th inning. Campbell was then yanked off the bases in favor of some speed; Campbell was picked off at first base in the 2nd inning.
Pressure spot number five: To the plate came Paitsel again. Paitsel was 0 for 2 on the night with a walk and two strikeouts.
With no one out and a runner on first base, TC’s Ham checked the runner, checked the sign, checked the runner, shook off the sign. Finally he settled, took one quick look at the runner on first, kicked, pushed and delivered a screamer right into Paitsel’s wheelhouse.
“I just tried to get a good rip at it and drive it but I ended up lifting it a bit,” said Paitsel.
Even TC left-fielder, Billy Endris thought it would stay in as he tracked the ball at a jog to the wall.
Only fate had used up her bullets and her gun clicked empty.
The ball carried over the fence for a game-winning, walk-off, repeat district championship home run as the dugout cleared for the second time, this time they stayed on the field. The game was over.
Tampa Catholic deserves some credit. They did almost everything right. They moved the ball, made timely and effective substitutions. They knocked around three different Marauder pitchers.
CCC got some good hitting from the bottom third of their order. Between Karaphillis, Mendizabal and Hallam, The Marauders got five hits and three RBIs. They got a big stop from Dave Slattery in the fifth inning as he struckout Darrigo and got Perez to ground out, only giving up the one run off a blooper single from JC Prado.
TC's starting pitcher, sophomore Nick Sucarichi had a very good game only surrendering 6 hits and 3 runs, 2 of them earned, in four-and-two-thirds innings. He also fanned 4. The top half of their order hit well. Gio Marrero went two-for-three with an RBI, a walk and was one-for-two stealing bases. Nick Perez went three-for-four with a double and an RBI.
But in the end, you must secure all 21 outs and though CCC was down, they were never out of it. They kept their pulse going when many other teams would have just rolled over.
CCC Coach Vaughan said after the game, “I can teach them how to pitch and hit and catch but I can’t teach them heart. They have that all by themselves”.
Both teams are moving on to regionals and could even meet again in the regional semifinals.
For a link to the FHSAA baseball 3A State Championship bracket, click here.