One year after experiencing the joy of a tense extra inning win that punched their ticket to the state final four, the Belen Jesuit Wolverines baseball team, on the very same field they did it a year ago, went through the despair and pain of a difficult loss on Friday afternoon.
Just when it looked like their Region 4-7A final against Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer was headed to extra innings again, (Belen won 5-4 in eight innings last year) disaster struck when what should have been a routine ground out to second base with two outs became anything but that.
With Dwyer pinch runner Eddie Hayes representing the winning run on second and two outs, Belen second baseman Armando Albert fielded a ground ball cleanly but threw low to first baseman Carlos Lara. Lara reached down for the low throw but it went under his glove and trickled away and Hayes raced around to score giving Dwyer a 2-1 victory and punching the Panthers first-ever trip to the state final four next week in Fort Myers.
The loss not only crushed Belen’s dream of a second straight trip to Fort Myers but ruined an otherwise brilliant pitching performance by Danny Brown as the FIU commit gave up just two hits and walked only one.
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“This is tough, I just told them that one game does not define a team and one play does not define a player,” said Belen coach Jerry Albert after the game. “I feel awful for Danny. He was as usual brilliant out there today on the mound and we just didn’t give him enough support.”
Belen didn’t have a ton of offensive chances as Brown squared off with Dwyer starter and South Carolina commit Shane Roberts for five innings, but they had a golden opportunity to snap the 1-1 tie in the top of the sixth.
After Justin Alintoff replaced Roberts, who gave up only one hit, Belen, after a leadoff infield single by Erick Wilson, sacrifice bunt and bloop double down the right field line by C.J. Vazquez, had runners on second and third.
But Andrew Hernandez and Gabriel DeZendegui both struck out swinging to end the threat. The only reason Wilson did not score on the Vazquez double was he stayed too close to second thinking that Vazquez’s fly ball was going to be caught.
“We’ve been dealing with way too many strikeouts all year when we needed to find a way to get a run in,” said Albert. “Unfortunately that came back to bite us again today.”
Belen (21-7) took the lead on Roberts by scraping a run across in the top of the first thanks to two hit batters and a two-out base hit to right by Humberto Torres, the only hit Roberts would give up.
Dwyer (25-5) tied the game in the third when Brown hit Max Howard to lead off the inning. Eventually Howard wound up at third with two outs before Brown made his only mistake of the day, throwing a pitch in the dirt that just barely trickled past catcher Andrew Hernandez allowing Howard to race home.
After the first two Dwyer batters reached in the last of the seventh on a walk and fielders choice, it looked like Brown would escape the jam. Lara made a nice play on a bunt attempt firing to third for the force out before Brown induced a fly ball out to center field for the second out setting the stage for the game-ending error.
State baseball finals
When: Through Saturday (Classes 4A-1A); Wednesday through June 3 (Classes 9A-5A).
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 3A: Jacksonville University Christian 6, Miami Archbishop Carroll 0; Fort Myers Canterbury 7, Spring Hill Bishop McLaughlin 4; Class 4A: Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian vs. Pensacola Catholic, inc.; Clearwater Calvary Christian vs. Delray Beach American Heritage, inc.
Thursday’s results — Class 1A: Trenton 3, Madison County 2; Class 2A: Lake Worth Trinity Christian 8, Deltona Trinity Christian 3.
Saturday’s finals — Class 3A: University Christian vs. Canterbury, 4:05; Class 4A: Calvary Christian-Pensacola Catholic winner vs. Clearwater Calvary Christian-Delray American Heritage winner, 7:35.