Christian Scott probably tried not to think about it. In fact the entire Calvary Christian baseball team tried not to think about it.
But, when Scott and the Eagles saw a 3-0 lead going to the last inning of Wednesday night’s Class 4A state semifinal against Palm Beach Gardens Benjamin about to evaporate, visions of a nightmarish finish a year ago in the very same game in the very same park probably were dancing in their heads.
But there would be no nightmare finish on this night as Scott, having already given up one run and still facing a bases-loaded, one out situation in the last of the seventh, dug down and struck out Aaron Steinhart and T. J. McKenzie to end the game giving Calvary Christian a 3-1 victory at the CenturyLink Sports Complex in a game that started three hours late and went well past midnight.
And with that, the Eagles, who won the state title two years ago, advance to the Class 4A state championship game where it will be an “all-Calvary Christian” final as they take on the Warriors of Clearwater Calvary Christian at 7:30 p.m.
Clearwater is not only the defending 4A state champion but, following its 2-1 win over Jacksonville Trinity Christian in the earlier semifinal, the Warriors are 30-0, ranked No. 1 in the nation (USA Today) and have won 60 consecutive games after going 30-0 last year.
With Scott on the mound, CCA took a 3-1 lead to the last inning of last year’s state semifinal against Pensacola Catholic and saw it disintegrate into a 4-3 loss.
“Yeah, maybe I was thinking about it a little,” said Scott, now 11-0 and on his way to the University of Florida or the major leagues depending on what round he gets drafted in. “The only difference was last year they didn’t beat me on my best pitch, if I was going down this tonight, it was going to be with my best pitch, my fast ball. If they could hit it, then they hit it but I was still confident despite what happened last year that I would be able to dig down and find a way to hang on.”
“For a young man like that that has been a competitor here for four years the way he has, if he wants the ball, you give it to him,” said Calvary coach Alan Kunkel. “You’re going to win or lose with your horse. Were we comfortable going to pen with Timmy Watkins? Absolutely, he’s been closing he door for us all year but, that guy (Scott), he’s leaving here to either go off to the University of Florida real soon or may have to make a tough decision depending on where he gets drafted so he earned the right to close this thing out tonight and you saw what he could do out there.”
The Eagles, 16-16 but 27-5 on the field after having to forfeit 11 regular season games due to an ineligible player, got Scott the lead before he ever took the mound.
That’s when they reached Benjamin starter Kris Armstrong for a run in the top of the first when, after loading the bases with one out thanks to a pair of hits by Ben Rozenblum and Dante Girardi to lead off the game, David Judge drew an RBI walk.
Judge wasn’t the least bit interested in a walk when he stepped up in the third when he turned on and crushed an Armstrong fast ball deep over the left field fence to a tape measure home run to make it 2-0.
“I got a low inside fast ball, went down and I got it and got a hold of it,” said Judge. “We never doubted that Christian would get it done. He’s been through tougher times and knows how to deal with situations like he had in that last inning.”
Scott labored all night long giving up seven hits, walking four, hitting a batter and had to work out of numerous jams.
Even when he took a 3-0 lead to the last inning, it got tough as he gave up a leadoff single before striking out No. 9 hitter Brian Lopes. But then came the top of the order and after hitting Isaiah Thomas, Kris Armstrong and Paul Lanoce followed with base hits to make it 3-1 to bring Steinhart to the plate before Scott buckled down and performed his heroics.
Region 4-8A final - St. Thomas Aquinas 10, Nova 1: Five runs in the fifth were more than enough for host St. Thomas Aquinas to defeat Nova 10-1 in the region 4-8A final Wednesday night. Aquinas will face Lakeland George Jenkins June 1 in the state semifinal. The Raiders’ last trip to state was in 2013.
“We have been working hard all year, so this was like icing on the cake for us,” pitcher Blake Hely said. “I just tried to find the zone and let my defense work.”
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Hely pitched into the sixth inning striking out five and only allowing three hits.
A solo home run by Cade Fergus in the first put Aquinas on top early. The Raiders (25-3) added a run in the second on an RBI by Wade Iben.
The Titans (23-4) scored their first run in the third when Jared Campbell delivered an RBI single.
A solo home run by Caleb Roberts gave Aquinas a 4-1 lead in the third.
Gabe Terry came up big for Aquinas in two situations with the bases loaded. Terry came up with a leaping catch in right field to end a rally attempt by Nova. In the fifth, Terry scored two runs on a single. Fifth inning runs were also scored on a double by Matt Archer, a walk and a balk.
Nick Vera added the 10th run in the sixth on a solo home run to center.
NOVA 0-0-1-0-0-0-0 1-5-0
STA 1-1-2-0-5-1-x 10-8-1
WP: Blake Hely (10-2). LP: Asdin Santiago (6-1).