The Coral Reef baseball team found that out the hard way on Saturday afternoon. that baseball can be a game of inches.
A team completely off the radar that made an unlikely postseason run saw it end in crushing disappointment as the Barracudas suffered a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Sanford Seminole in the Class 9A state championship game at CenturyLink Sports Complex.
Not only was the game’s final play decided by inches but the only run of the game, a sixth-inning solo home run by Seminole’s Mason Mazarredo, literally bounced off the top of the left-field fence.
With pinch runner Alonzo Santamaria at third base representing the tying run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Coral Reef right fielder Manny Duran blooped a short pop up just over the pitcher’s mound.
Seminole pitcher Charlie McDaniel, having frustrated Barracudas hitters all day with a brilliant effort on the mound, frustrated them one last time. Even as he stumbled and fell to the ground, he managed to reach out with his glove and barely snag the ball before it hit the ground.
Instead of a tie game, Seminole players rushed behind the mound to dog pile on top of McDaniel, celebrating the program’s second state title and first since they last made it to the state final four in 1992.
“How could you not fall in love with the game after this kind of a great game today,” said Coral Reef head coach Chris Leon. “Sure it hurts not to come out on top but how can you not be proud of your kids for making this kind of run and than battling the way they did out there today. Sometimes it can be a game of inches and you saw that out there today. They just made one or two plays more than we did and that was the difference.”
“I kind of froze when it happened and then kind of stumbled a little bit coming off the mound,” said McDaniel, who scattered five hits, struck out five and walked just one batter. “I didn’t really have time to think, I just knew I had to somehow reach out for the ball because if it hits the ground the game is tied. I’m not the most athletic guy around so thank goodness I was on that.”
Coral Reef (19-11) got hit one other time with an “almost” as well. That came in the fourth inning when, with runners on first and second and one out, they had their best chance to score off McDaniel and take the lead in the game.
Jake Ogden lined a rope that would’ve been a sure fire double into the left field corner and scored both runners. But Seminole third baseman Craig Conk leaped as high as he could and snagged the ball in the very top of his glove. He then made the easy toss over to second doubling back Michael Ogden, who had led the inning off with a double, to end the inning.
Reef pitcher Samuel Cheng was a tough loser on this day as he was nearly as brilliant as McDaniel, scattering six hits and walking just two. He just made one mistake, and Mazarredo made him pay.
“One pitch earlier I had gotten fooled on a changeup so I was just looking for something I could drive and got a fast ball up and out over the plate and I got good bat on it,” said Mazarredo. “To be honest, I was thinking double when I hit it and wasn’t sure if it had enough to get out but was sure glad it did.”
“I left a fastball out over the plate and obviously a pitch I wish I could have it back,” said Cheng. “I was hoping it would stay in the park and when I saw it go over, it was heartbreaking.”
Asked about his team’s remarkable and perhaps unexpected run all the way to the state final, Leon, who took over the program three years ago, was reflective.
“Since I got the job here, it’s been a joy to work with these kids,” he said. “I call them my ping pong balls because this school is so much different from any other with the high academic standards. Not just anybody shows up and gets in. There’s a waiting list and I’m sure I probably have the highest GPA of any team in the county. That makes what we accomplished this year that much more special.”