The results are usually predictable when you are a state final four newbie going up against a veteran, established and experienced past champion.
But there has been nothing usual about the Coral Reef baseball team this month. Thursday afternoon was no exception.
The Barracudas could not have cared less that they were taking on an Orlando Timber Creek team that was a state champion two years ago and state runner-up last season. Coral Reef overcame an early deficit to knock off Timber Creek 7-4 in a Class 9A state semifinal at CenturyLink Sports Complex.
With that, a team that went 13-10 in the regular season, finished fourth in its own district and had never won a regional playoff game before this year, finds itself one win away from the unlikeliest of state championships.
Coral Reef, which trailed 3-0 after two-and-a-half innings, will look to complete an amazing storybook finish when it takes on Sanford Seminole in the 9A state championship game on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
“We’ve kind of been through games like this all season long where we’d get off to slow starts and just have to kind of pick each other up,” Coral Reef head coach Chris Leon said. “When they got up on us early, I brought the guys up and told them we’ve been through this before and that the game doesn’t end in the third inning.”
Things couldn’t have started worse for Reef as not only did Cudas starting pitcher Patrick Roth struggle early on but he wasn’t helped by three errors in the field.
But just when things looked like a lost cause, the Barracudas (19-10) sent a dozen batters to the plate and dropped a seven-run bomb on the Wolves in the bottom of the third to turn the game around.
After Manny Duran got hit by a pitch to start the inning, Sean Londono followed with a base hit to left and Dylan Boyd singled to center scoring Duran. Things were only getting started.
After Sebastian Jimenez reached on a fielder’s choice groundout, Brent Cosculluela singled to center to knock in another run. 3-2.
TC pitcher Denton Coquyt then threw wild to second on a pickoff attempt and Jimenez came all the way around to score from second when the center fielder’s throw to third went into the Reef dugout. 3-3.
After Michael Ogden walked, Shawn Perez stepped up an ripped a shot off the left center field fence for a two-RBI double. 5-3.
Perez then came around when Ryan Scarry tripled into the right-field corner. 6-3.
Thomas Acevedo then laid down a perfect bunt scoring Scarry from third. 7-3.
“I’m kind of the team cheerleader, the guy that gets everybody up and not letting them stay down,” said Perez. “When I got up to the plate, I was just thinking, try and hit something hard and put it in play and I got great contact.”
But perhaps the biggest moment in the game came in the top of that inning.
Already with that three-run lead, Timber Creek (25-6) had runners on second and third and two outs when Shady Farah hit a shot to left field that looked like it would fall in and 3-0 would become 5-0.
That was until left fielder Dylan Boyd left his feet to make a diving catch just before the ball hit the ground to end the inning, setting the stage for Reef’s seven run rally.
“I knew the situation we were in,” Boyd said, “and had made up my mind that I was going to go for it and stretch out for it if that’s what it took and fortunately I got there and made the play.”
“A crucial moment,” Leon added without hesitation. “Dylan’s been doing stuff like that all year for us.”
Roth, battling the searing midafternoon heat, then settled down after watching his team put up the seven spot before eventually giving way to reliever Michael Ogden in the seventh after things got interesting as the Wolves loaded the bases with no outs..
But Ogden got the job done, striking out one batter, getting another to line out to third before inducing a game-ending fly ball to center.
“Sure nobody thought we could do this but now we’re trying to prove them wrong,” Leon said. “Even though we may have finished fourth in our own district, which by the way I think may be the toughest around, I know I have a special group of kids and knew the talent we had on this team. Hopefully Saturday we can get an early lead and not have to come from behind again.”