The only thing certain going into Friday night’s Class 4A baseball state semifinal was that a team named Calvary Christian was going to win it.
Unfortunately for the Eagles of Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian, it was the “other” Calvary Christian team, the one from Clearwater, that came out on top as the defending 4A state champion Eagles fell 3-1 at CenturyLink Sports Complex.
Clearwater CC advanced to the 4A final on Saturday night where the Warriors (25-4) will take on Delray Beach American Heritage at 7:30 p.m.
With ace Anthony Painter on the mound, coach Alan Kunkel and his Eagles players certainly must have liked their chances heading into the contest. But it turned out to be a rough night for the sophomore University of Florida commit as he never made it past the third inning.
“Anthony has been a workhorse and been outstanding for us all year,” Kunkel said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t have great feel for the breaking ball and the change up early. He hung some breaking balls and left a changup up and they did some damage early.”
Painter’s rough night started right out of the box. Just when it looked like he would cruise through the first inning when he struck out the first two batters, it all went south.
Tommy White doubled down the left-field line. Vince Smith followed that up with his own RBI double into the left-field corner.
Pierce Chambers then lofted a soft liner to left that left fielder Ty Hollandsworth couldn’t get to. Just like that, the Eagles (24-5) were in a 2-0 hole.
The Eagles got one of those runs back in the bottom of the inning when, with runners on the corners and two outs, Ben Rozenblum broke for second on a steal attempt and Dante Girardi took off from third for home. He scored when the throw down to second went awry.
After he seemingly settled down and retired the side in order in the second, Painter’s night came to an end in the third. After issuing a leadoff walk to Christian Cairo, he compounded the problem by throwing wild to first in a pickoff attempt.
Cairo went to third and then came home on a safety squeeze bunt by Samuel Gordon. When White followed with a base hit and Chambers walked, Painter’s night came to a surprisingly early end.
“I guess I just didn’t have the confidence I usually go out there with tonight,” said a dejected Painter. “Usually if I give up hits early, I don’t let them get to me. But tonight I might’ve dwelled on them and let them get to me.
“But I’m young, I’ve still got two more years and what you have to do now is learn from this so hopefully we get back here again and the same thing doesn’t happen to me.”
Thanks to a leadoff hit by Girardi, a one-out throwing error at second base and an intentional walk, the Eagles had a golden chance in the bottom of the third. That was until Clearwater starter Nolan Hudi induced a ground ball to shortstop off the bat of Ryan Keenan that turned into a 6-4-3 inning-endng double play.
Meanwhile, Skylar Gonzalez, who relieved Painter, pitched well, retiring 13 of the 15 Warriors batters he faced. But the Eagles simply could muster no more offense.
Hudi, a TCU commit, then settled down and retired 12 of the last 14 batters. The last chance for the Eagles came when Girardi stepped up to the plate with a runner on and two outs in the seventh. Having three of the five hits that Hudi gave up, Eagles players had their rally caps on. But Girardi fouled to first base ending the game.
“He’s a really tough competitor,” said Giraldi of Hudi. “He competed all night, he had a little bit of movement on his fast ball which made it tough on our hitters, his slider curve ball was good and he’s just a good pitcher. For us it was a shock to see Anthony go out so early but credit to Skylar as well, he did a great job of keeping us in it. It just wasn’t our night tonight but we’ll be back next year.”