NFC baseball advances to state title game

NFC baseball advances to state title game

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NFC baseball advances to state title game

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Logan Dungey

Logan Dungey

NFC pitcher Cole Sands was dominant in Monday's FHSAA Class 3A state semifinal in Fort Myers. Sands threw a two-hitter and the Eagles advanced to the state championship game.

NFC pitcher Cole Sands was dominant in Monday’s FHSAA Class 3A state semifinal in Fort Myers. Sands threw a two-hitter and the Eagles advanced to the state championship game.

North Florida Christian senior pitcher Cole Sands gave up an infield hit to the first batter of the game in Monday morning’s FHSAA Class 3A state semifinal game against top-ranked Bishop McLaughlin.

That started a familiar trend for Sands— though as it turned out it wasn’t for allowing hits but creating ground balls.

Sands didn’t allow a hit again until the sixth inning, while cuing up 13 ground ball outs and striking out five Hurricanes batters in a dominating two-hit effort.

NFC’s offense backed their pitcher with two runs in the third inning and the Eagles won 3-1 at Fort Myers’ JetBlue Park to return to the 3A state championship game, where they will defend the school’s fourth state title won one year ago.

“I feel like (Cole) Ragans and my brother, (Carson Sands), have always been big strikeout pitchers,” Sands said. “I usually throw two seams which is where you get most of your ground balls from, but today they just kept pounding (four-seam fastballs) into the ground, so I just took what I got and ran with it.”

The Eagles (21-9) scored first in the top of the first inning after Landon Seymour singled to first and stole second. Sands and Ethan Michaelis walked, loading the bases for junior catcher Taylor Schmidt. Schmidt flied a ball to center and Seymour tagged and scored.

NFC allowed Bishop McLaughlin (26-4) to score when Jacob Rodriguez turned his aforementioned infield hit into an unearned run on a throwing error following a ground ball out. Unfazed, Sands (5-1) settled down and kept the Hurricanes off balance all day, going 1-2-3 in the second, third and sixth innings.

“My slider wasn’t really there today and after two inning I was up to 32 pitches,” Sands said. “I knew I had to start getting ground balls to stay under my pitch count, which is 10 an inning. I tried to have five-pitch innings, so I let them go first pitching swinging and hit it into the ground for an easy out. After the fourth or fifth inning I started getting back on track.”

Meanwhile, the Eagles’ offense turned the tide on Hurricanes starter Nate Pearson, a Florida International signee entering with a 9-0 record. Pearson touched 94 miles per hour on the radar, but NFC worked five walks on Bishop McLaughlin’s ace while recording six hits.

Three base knocks came in the third inning when Sands led off with a double— speedy Jalen Norwood came in to pinch run— and Ethan Michaelis followed with a single to put runners at the corners. Michaelis stole one of two bases on the day— the Eagles aggressively stole five all day— to precede Schmidt’s second sacrifice fly of the game.

NFC outfielder Trey Pearce doubled with two outs to score Michaelis and give Sands a lead he would never relinquish.

“Every run is so valuable when you get to the playoffs,” Sands said. “You’ll get base runners, but it’s really what you do with it, and how you get them around is what you work on in practice. Taylor, two sac flies was big. Trey’s was a big momentum grabber to put us up two runs.”

Even when Bishop McLaughlin finally scratched an outfield hit off the bat of Hunter Perez in the sixth, Sands induced a ground ball on the Hurricanes’ best hitter, starting a 6-4-3 double play.

“It was huge, not necessarily because they had a guy on base, but it was a big momentum changer,” Sands said. “Defensively, we were prepared to take those last two innings and put it away.”

Sands went 1-2-3 in the seventh, causing Pearson to ground out to start, while shortstop Logan Dungey ranged to the second base side of the diamond to record the final ground ball out of the day.

“You’ve just got to make the plays when you’ve got an opportunity,” Dungey said. “Make enough of those plays and you win the game. We made the routine plays. We weren’t on our heels waiting for him to strike people out. We were ready for everything put in play.”

NFC will face Miami Westminster Christian in Tuesday’s 4 p.m. state final. The Eagles will now be going for a third state championship in five years, and they beat Westminster in the state semifinal on the way to a title in 2011.

“A lot of people weren’t expecting us to make it back or to make it as far as we have, so it’s a good feeling to know we’ve changed people’s mindset and proved all the doubters wrong,” Dungey said. “We definitely didn’t feel like the underdog today. All the good teams we’ve played and they hadn’t played half the good teams we’d played. We were not the underdogs.”

NFC 3, Bishop McLaughlin 1

NFC 102 000 0 — 3 6 2

Bishop McLaughlin 100 000 0 — 1 2 0

WP — Cole Sands (5-1); LP — Nate Pearson (9-1)

Individual stats:

NFC— Cole Sands (WP – 7 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 5 K) 1-3, 2B, BB; Taylor Schmidt 0-1, 2 RBI; Trey Pearce 1-3, RBI, 2B; Ethan Michaelis 2-3, R, 2 SB, BB; Landon Seymour 1-3, R, SB, BB; Jordan Bennett 1-2, 2 SB, BB; Bishop McLaughlin— Nate Pearson (LP – 5.1 IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 6 H, 5 BB, 8 K); Franklin German (1.2 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 H, 1 BB, 1 K); Jacob Rodriguez 1-2, R; Hunter Perez 1-3

Records: NFC (21-9), Bishop McLaughlin (26-4)

Next game: NFC vs. Westminster Christian/Canterbury, Tuesday, 4, FHSAA Class 3A state championship

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NFC baseball advances to state title game

Eagles’ Sands two-hits No. 1 Bishop McLaughlin

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