Bishop Verot High School (Fort Myers) and Providence High School (Jacksonville) squared off in the Class 4A Florida High School Athletic Association state baseball semifinal on Friday, with the Vikings topping the Stallions by a 3-1 final score.
“This group has been extremely tough, this was a bad representation of us the last 26 games. This was so out of sorts for us, we really lost our identity in this game,” said Providence head coach Mac Mackiewitz after the game.
The Vikings (15-14) stranded three base runners in the top of the first and top of the second innings combined, leaving the door open for the Stallions (23-7) to strike first. They did just that, McCray Bennett hitting a two-out triple and Jake Morrow hitting an RBI single to give the Stallions a 1-0 lead heading into the third inning.
In the top of the third inning, the Vikings responded.
Pinch runner Bryce Glasgow scored the first run for the Vikings after Stallion catcher, Cameron Wright, committed an error tying to throw out a stealing base runner at second base. The Vikings evened the game back up in a hurry at 1-1.
After a Stallion leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth, Bennett followed suit and lined his second hit of the game, sending the runner home from third. But Viking left fielder Mike Green corralled Bennett’s hard hit ball, throwing a slingshot to the catcher and retiring the runner at home plate. During the same sequence, Bennett was picked off at second base as the Vikings pulled off a highlight reel double play to end the inning.
“It definitely hurt. I still felt, because the game was still 1-1, we were going to win the game. It was another running opportunity we squandered. We did it earlier in the game, too, but I still felt we were going to win the game,” Mackiewitz added.
Momentum instantly shifted in favor of the Vikings.
Stallion starting pitcher Nate Adams was pulled in the top of the fifth inning, allowing six hits and striking out three. In relief, Ben Benson stepped in facing two outs and retired the next batter to escape the inning.
However, the top of the sixth proved to be the difference in the game, as the Vikings channeled positive energy from their flocking fans and turned it into go-ahead runs.
“It was one of the greatest crowds we’ve had here, I mean, this is our fourth year. For them to start clapping and cheering all at the same time, most of the time it’s our student section…it was really, really special. It was something I won’t ever forget,” said David Nelson, the head coach for Bishop Verot.
From the third spot in the order, Mike Richey started things off with a leadoff single, and then a Benson pitch hit Carson Smith squarely. With two runners on the base path, Ivan Cotto stepped up and delivered a two-run RBI double to give the Vikings a come-from-behind 3-1 lead.
“First pitch was a slider and I kind of just pulled off of it. Second pitch was a strike, I had to stay in there, and then he threw the slider right down the middle. I did what I’ve been doing in practice and did what they told me to,” Cotto said, describing his at-bat that ended up winning the Vikings the game.
Unable to add any insurance runs in the top of the seventh, the Vikings turned to their starting pitcher, Gunner Byrd, who struck out two of the last three Stallion batters to finish off his complete game and send the Vikings to the state finals.
Byrd had six strikeouts in the contest, allowing six hits, but only gave up one run. The leadoff hitter also had a pair of singles to set the tone on offense and defense.
“I just kept hitting my spots, just tried to work away most of the time and get them to roll over so me and my team could get some runs on offense,” said Byrd of his team-leading performance.
As a result of Friday’s victory, the Vikings will face Calvary Christian (Fort Lauderdale) at JetBlue Park in the state championship game Saturday at 4:00 p.m.
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