A roundup of regional playoff action from Tuesday, May 10, 2022.
No. 3 Pine Forest 4, No. 6 Gulf Breeze 3
The circumstances leading to this point were certainly unusual, but against an opponent that clobbered them earlier in the season, Pine Forest made the most of its opportunity.
And in this win-or-go-home environment, the Eagles live to see another day.
Pine Forest rallied from an earlier deficit to earn a walk-off win over Gulf Breeze on Tuesday during a Region 1-5A quarterfinal in front of a standing-room only crowd at Pine Forest High School.
With his team trailing the entire night, Eagles sophomore Jordan Luckie made it a 3-3 ballgame after delivering an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Retiring the Dolphins in order in the seventh as a part of a complete-game effort, senior starting pitcher Conner Wright was also huge at the plate. He raced into scoring position thanks to a one-out triple in the bottom of the frame.
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With the visitors opting to load the bases with back-to-back intentional walks, senior outfielder Paul Whitson sent the Pine Forest fans home happy when his sacrifice fly plated Wright.
“It’s a team victory,” Eagles head coach Brett McCullough said. “We used just about everybody in the lineup in certain situations and everybody contributed. We played pretty good defense, our pitcher pitched his tail off and our hitters kept competing. We had plenty of opportunities that we didn’t finish, but in the end, we came through and got the big sac fly to win it.”
The two teams were supposed to square off last week for the District 1-5A championship, but top-seeded Gulf Breeze was forced to forfeit after a rule violation. During the semifinals against Milton, Dolphins sophomore Jacob Thorn tossed 112 pitches, surpassing the FHSAA limit of 95 pitches for players who are either 15 or 16 years old.
Recording a 14-3 beatdown in the teams' lone regular-season meeting, Gulf Breeze would’ve hosted Pine Forest for the district crown.
But by virtue of the disqualification, the Eagles, who were on the bubble for an at-large bid, were granted the district title and the No. 3 seed in the region. They advance to play at 7 p.m. EST Thursday at No. 2 Lincoln.
The Dolphins were seeded sixth in the region. They finished 2022 with a 12-12 record.
“Man, (the players) have been through a lot in the last week,” Gulf Breeze interim head coach Bryant Cobb said. “They battled, but we didn’t have our best stuff here tonight. We played hard, but just didn’t hit it well tonight. ... The kid from Pine Forest threw a heck of a game and we just didn’t have the answer tonight.”
Here are three takeaways from the Eagles’ dramatic regional-quarterfinal triumph:
'Nervous, but a little angry and really thrilled at the same time'
Pine Forest (15-9) knocked on the door throughout the night, but only had two runs through five innings to show for it.
The home team recorded an out at the plate to end the second. Trailing 3-2, the Eagles loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth and again packed the bags with two outs in the fifth, but came up empty in both instances.
“We all had to take a breath for a little bit,” Whitson said. “We started getting in our heads. With the bases loaded, we were tight. We had to come together and regroup as one and just hit the ball.”
Whitson got the hosts going in the sixth with a one-out single. That was immediately followed by a ground-ball single to right from junior pitch-hitter Jakeris Watson and two-out walk from junior designated hitter Zach Beaver, setting the stage for Luckie.
Swinging on a 1-2 offering from freshman reliever Roman Jackson, the sophomore outfielder ripped a sharp line drive past third base for the game-tying hit. Michael Johnson tried to follow Whitson home from second, but the sophomore courtesy runner was thrown out at the plate by senior outfielder Andrew Thorn.
Before his players finally cashed in, McCullough had a simple message for them.
“‘Keep competing, something is going to fall.’ I mean if you get guys on enough, something good is going to happen,” he said. “We try to look at it inning-by-inning, we’re not looking at it as a seven-inning game. We try to compete for every inning and win every inning. If you win every inning, you’re going to win a ball game. So we’ll compete one inning at a time and one out and one at-bat at a time.”
Whitson’s competitive spirit was heightened when the two batters ahead of him were intentionally walked to load the bases. Within the at-bat against junior reliever Logan Edwards, the senior had to bottom his emotions before lifting a fly ball to center. Moments later, all those emotions were released when his teammates rushed him in the infield.
“There were a lot of emotions going into that at-bat,” the senior said. “When they walked the two lead hitters, I was nervous, but a little angry and really thrilled at the same time. (Edwards) threw me a first-pitch fastball and I got really angry because I missed it. He threw me a breaking ball, and then fastball right down the middle.
“I’m feeling really happy right now. All I can think about is the next game. That’s all I want to do, is win the next game.”
‘It felt great, it was unreal’
Pine Forest wouldn’t have another game if Wright didn’t shake off a rough start on the mound.
On his first pitch of the night, the senior hit senior shortstop Carson Hepworth. He walked the next two batters.
Wright’s first seven pitches of the night were balls. He tossed 27 pitches (14 balls) in the first inning, but managed to only concede two runs.
“I just had to settle in and trust my defense to make plays,” the senior said. “I know they are behind me, so I just had to throw strikes.”
Wright gave up a run in the third on a RBI single from junior outfielder Seth Frantz, but the senior right-handed pitcher darted in and out of the frames the rest of the way.
Mixing in his fastball with a sweeping curveball, he allowed three runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts through a gritty seven innings of work.
“He was outstanding,” McCullough said. “He struggled early and when he came back into the dugout, the message was ‘to just keep competing, fill up the zone, give us an opportunity to make some plays and let’s just see what happens.’ He came out and he did exactly that.”
Like Whitson, Wright sat on an Edwards fastball and blasted it into the gap in left center. Digging hard around the bases, the senior pitcher slid into the third. Three batters later, he scored the game-winning run.
“It felt great, it was unreal,” Wright remarked.
At the end of an emotional seven-day stretch, emotions ran high at the end of the night for a Gulf Breeze side that fought through it all.
Several players limped toward their dugout in tears knowing that the season-long journey was over. That journey began with Travis Mattair, but he resigned two days after the fiasco against Milton.
The journey ended with Cobb, who had to hold back his emotions when discussing how his players battled through it.
“The kids have been through a lot and the coaches have been through a lot, but they worked hard for the whole week that we were together,” he said. “That’s all we can ask. They worked their butts off and had a great attitude and a great effort. They’re a special group of kids and they're fun to be around.”
The team’s resilience on the field was best exhibited in the fourth and fifth frames.
The Dolphins turned a 1-2-3 double play before recording a 1-6-3 putout to escape a bases-loaded, no-outs jam.
Sophomore starting pitcher Battle Alberson exited the game following the fourth in place of Jackson. The freshman retired the first two batters he faced before the Eagles put the next three on. However, Jackson recovered by fanning junior outfielder Bryson Whelan to end the fifth.
“They’re just competitors,” Cobb said of Alberson and Jackson. “They battled all year long and those are two guys that we’re going to get back next year that we’re really excited about.”
No. 4 First Coast 1, No. 5 Tate 3
Dylan Cope didn't need any 1-2-3 innings to add an all-important one to his win column.
"I just knew I had the best opportunity, even with guys on or with no one on," the First Coast senior pitcher said.
Cope worked through six gritty innings and made First Coast's big first inning pay off, ousting state-ranked Tate 3-1 in Tuesday night's Florida High School Athletic Association Region 1-6A baseball quarterfinal at The Shipyard.
First Coast (16-8), which entered last week ranked 15th in the region and needed to win District 3-6A outright to qualify for postseason, stunned the seventh-ranked team in the FHSAA statewide rankings to qualify for a Friday road game at Pace. Tate stood 23-2 before last week's district final.
Even though Tate (23-4) got runners aboard in every inning, including two in each of the first four innings, Cope slammed the door time and again. The Aggies plated their only run in the fourth, on a Jackson Penton double.
A Florida State College at Jacksonville commit, Cope allowed six hits and three walks while striking out six, pitching with confidence all night.
"When they scored the three in the first," the senior said, "I feel like that sealed the deal immediately."
The Bucs got those runs off otherwise-dominant Tate starter Josiah Glodfelter, who struck out 12 but initially took time to find his rhythm. Hunter Carns singled, Dylan Fontaine walked and then J.J. Nazario clubbed a two-run double to left. Nazario then raced around to score on an Aggies error off Andrew Callaway's grounder.
As it turned out, that was all the run support Cope needed. Tate's Caden Kelly reached to lead off the seventh, but First Coast closer Braeden McNamee retired the next three in order, finishing with a strikeout of Drew Reaves.
Recap written by Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union.
No. 1 Pace 10, No. 8 Forest 5
On the same night that rival Tate was getting upset in Jacksonville, Pace appeared in danger of joining them with an early playoff exit.
After striking for the games first two runs in the top of the third, the visiting Wildcats were halfway from a trip to the regional semifinals. Instead, the Patriots wiped all of that hope away over the next inning and a half.
"We have played a tough schedule and played close games all year," head coach Jason McBride said. "These guys know you have to play for 21 outs."
In the bottom of the frame, the top seed tied the game when Jackson McKenzie, proving to be one of the team's most clutch hitters down the stretch, launched a two-run blast. The bottom of the fourth is when the Patriots (23-3) took command though, thanks in part to a Forest self-implosion.
The home team scored three runs on errors and another by way of wild pitch, driving in four more for a grand total of eight. Alex McCranie and Andrew Krevatas each hit RBI singles while Broc Parmer hit a two-RBI double off the outfield fence.
"We started taking better swings on their pitcher," McBride said. "After they made a two-out error, we put together some hits to break it open."
Pace now welcomes First Coast to town at 7 p.m. Friday night with a trip to the Region 1-6A finals on the line.
No. 1 Holmes County 9, No. 4 Jay 6
Forget the wins and loss columns, mark it down as another learning experience for the up-and-coming Royals.
Their team had just three players returning this season that had varsity playing experience, and they made the most of the situation. Young guys picked up on the varsity nuances, flashed signs of what could be and learned from difficult losses like this one.
Against Northview in the District 1-1A finals and Tuesday versus Holmes County, the inexperienced team never backed down.
"The odds were stacked against us, we were obviously the big underdog," head coach Mike Roberts said. "But our guys never bought into that."
After allowing the game's opening run in the bottom of the first inning, the road team responded by posting a four-spot in the top of the second. When they allowed six runs through the fourth and fifth innings, Jay kept fighting, putting up two more in the seventh.
When the game went final, ending their season, all the Royals could think about was continuing to get better.
"We're looking forward to getting back to work, we were talking about it on the bus tonight," Roberts said. "The guys were talking about it after the game, it's time to start right now for next year."
Jay ends its season at 11-11-1, just a few games worse than its 2021 season where its senior-laden squad went 13-9.
No. 2 Northview 7, No. 3 Paxton 3
The stars are aligning just right for the Chiefs to get retribution for the way their 2021 season ended.
They beat Jay in the District 1-1A title game, beat Paxton in the first round of the Region 1-1A playoffs and then lost to Holmes County in extras in the semifinals. Now, Northview (17-7) has completed two-thirds of that exact same journey again, with another stab at Holmes County to come at 7 p.m. Friday.
Senior Jamarkus Jefferson was a major contributor in advancing to the next round, both as the starting pitcher and in the batter's box.
He went 4 2/3 innings deep before getting pulled, allowing just two runs with six punch outs. At the dish he was 2-of-3 with two RBIs, matching Wyatt Scruggs who also had two base knocks. Scruggs plated one run.
If there was anything to clean up, it would be the free bags. Between Jefferson and relief pitcher Cason Burkett, the home team relinquished 11 walks. With their defense behind them notching a perfect fielding percentage, the two pitchers worked their way out of multiple jams.
That might fly versus the No. 3 seed, but versus No. 1 Holmes County, they'll need to limit the freebies. The Blue Devils started pitcher Landon Lumpkin in their win over Jay, saving No. 1 pitcher Colby Jones (7-1, .80 ERA) for their battle with Northview Friday night.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Regional roundup: Pine Forest nabs walk-off win over Gulf Breeze