Despite plenty of talent coming through the program over the years, state championships for the St. Thomas Aquinas baseball program had been few and far between.
But the Raiders, thanks to a big offensive performance Saturday, notched state title No. 3 and their first since 2003 following an 8-4 victory over Sarasota in the Class 8A state championship game at the Hammond CenturyLink Sports Complex.
“We have an unbelievable group of seniors, and they really deserve this moment,” St. Thomas coach Troy Cameron said.. “I’ve never had a senior class lead like this before. Yes we’ve had some talented teams in the past, but there was just something different about this bunch. They showed an ability to lead and make our job as coaches so much easier.”
The Raiders (27-3), who first won a state title in 1995 and are ranked No. 16 nationally by Baseball America, could not have gotten off to a better start when Matt Archer and Andres Antoninni led off the game with back-to-back doubles to bring in a run.
One batter later, third baseman Caleb Roberts lined a shot down the left-field line for another double, scoring Antoninni, marking RBI No. 50 on the season.
After Sarasota (19-13) sliced the lead in half with a run in the second, St. Thomas extended its lead to 4-1 in the top of the third when Archer led off the inning with an infield single followed by another Antoninni double that left runners at second and third. Cade Fergus promptly doubled to bring both of them home.
Antoninni, a Pittsburgh commit, continued to enjoy his big day when he came through with a two-out RBI single to right in the fourth to make it 5-1.
With runners on first and second, a huge two-out throwing error to first by Roberts in the fifth opened the door for the Sailors, who scored three unearned runs to cut the Raider lead to 5-4.
Roberts more than made up for the miscue when he stepped up in the next inning with the bases loaded and two outs and rocketed a shot off the right-field wall that scored three runs to make it 8-4.
“Just huge, an amazing feeling right now,” said Roberts, a University of North Carolina commit who finished the day with two triples, a double and four RBI. “This is what I came to St. Thomas to do, and we did it.
“I was pretty upset after that big error and had let my teammates down, so I really wanted that moment when I stepped up with the bases loaded. I got a good pitch and put good wood on it.”
Said Cameron: “I knew when he was coming up, I said to myself, ‘Right man, right spot.’ Caleb’s come up huge for us all year and did it again today. We’re here because of guys like him.”