It took Nova a dozen years to get back to the state tournament.
But sometimes a hot opposing pitcher can make your stay a brief one.
The Titans encountered such an issue in Friday morning’s Class 8A state semifinal when they couldn’t figure out Tallahassee Lincoln’s ace Austin Pollock, who nearly shut them out during a 4-1 loss at Hammond Stadium.
Pollock, a 6-3 senior lefty and Florida State signee, blanked Nova (24-4) for 6 2/3 innings and held the Titans to only two hits — both singles — while striking out nine and walking two.
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“We just ran into a hot pitcher,” said Nova coach Pat McQuaid, who finished his 44th season coaching and has led the Titans to five state appearances.
“He was efficient with his pitches. Our plan was to try and get him out of there by the fifth or sixth with his pitch count, and we just weren’t able to do that.”
The only reason Pollock didn’t finish the game was he exceeded the state’s pitch count rule of 105 after throwing 107 pitches.
That allowed Nova to avoid being blanked in the bottom of the seventh when it put together a two-out rally against Lincoln senior right-hander Nick Standriff, who had not pitched since May 3 in the Trojans’ district championship victory over Tallahassee Chiles.
Even the lone run for Nova scored thanks to a Lincoln error when Trace Moore reached on an error by first baseman Dylan Barrett that allowed Daniel Hubert to score.
Standriff, who issued a walk and gave up a single upon entering the game, struck out pinch hitter Dylan Choi to end the game.
“I didn’t think the game was over because stranger things have happened,” McQuaid said. “But it hurt to give them those extra two runs. I wish Trace would have had a few more pitches left.”
With the game scoreless in the second and third, Nova put a runner on base and tried to steal second to get him in scoring position.
But each time Lincoln catcher Dallen Leach threw him out to end the inning.
Moore, Nova’s junior left-handed ace who entered the game with an 11-0 record and a 0.48 ERA, suffered his first loss after going 6 1/3 innings, and allowing three runs on nine hits, walking two and striking out two.
Lincoln (26-5) broke a scoreless stalemate in the fourth when Barrett singled with one out and Hank Evans hit a ball deep down the right-field line that was ruled a triple despite a bobble by Nova right fielder Gabriel Paulson that allowed Barrett to score the first run.
Moore also exited the game because of a high pitch count (106) in the seventh with Nova trailing 2-0.
Jullian Cendejas, who inherited a runner at second and one out, gave up a single to Lincoln left fielder Myles McCord and a double to Barrett that stretched the Trojans’ lead to 4-0.
Nova, winners of two state titles in 2004 and ’05, had not been back since.
The Titans felt confident this season could carry over to future advancements to state since the team only graduates four starters and one regular pitcher among their seven seniors.
“I’m just excited for next season because we have some good players coming back, and I think we’ll have another shot at it,” Moore said.
State baseball finals
When: Through Saturday.
Where: Centurylink Sports Complex — Hammond Stadium, 14100 Ben C. Pratt Six Mile Cypress Parkway, Fort Myers.
Admission: $9 in advance, $12 per day at the gate.
Parking: $10 for cars, $50 for buses.
Friday’s results — Class 8A semifinals: Tallahassee Lincoln 4, Nova 1; Oviedo Hagerty 7, Sarasota 0; Class 9A semifinals: Orange City University 4, Miami Palmetto 0; Orlando Timber Creek 4, Jupiter 2.
Saturday’s finals — Class 6A: Archbishop McCarthy vs. Tampa Jesuit, 12:35; Class 8A: Lincoln vs. Hagerty, 4:05; Class 9A: University vs. Timber Creek, 7:35.