Just when teams in District 4A-5 thought they were catching up and could possibly close the book on a young, under-.500 Bishop Verot baseball team the ghosts of Vikings past reappeared.
This wasn’t the team that struggled with pitching all season or one that took its lumps against one of the state’s toughest schedules.
This was a team that squared up the two top pitchers on a 21-6 Sarasota Cardinal Mooney club for nine big hits in a 5-2 upset in the District 4A-5 final Friday at Duane Swanson Field. This is a team with a pitching staff that is starting to come together at the right time for playoff baseball.
Verot (12-14), which has just four seniors, is a long way from scuffling against state-ranked competition in the middle of the season. Now it will be hosting a Region 4A-3 semifinal game Thursday against West Palm Beach King’s Academy with hopes of keeping its streak of consecutive trips to the state Final Four alive.
“I knew it was important to put together a tough schedule,” Verot coach David Nelson said. “I knew how good Cardinal Mooney was going to be this year.”
But somehow, whether the Vikings have 20-plus wins or a losing record they seem to kick it into gear in the postseason. And this season has special meaning to all the players as Nelson is stepping down at the end of the year to spend more time with his family and pursue his master’s degree after five straight appearances in the state semifinals as an assistant and a head coach.
“It’s important we send him out with one last run,” senior center fielder Trevor Cramer said.
They’re off to a good start.
Drew Dwyer turned in his best start on the mound at Verot, tossing five innings of one-hit ball. The two runs he gave up in the bottom of the first inning came on a Christian Maglich sacrifice fly and an errant pickoff throw to first.
The junior walked six, but Nelson stuck with him.
“He could have easily shut down and been pulled in the second or third inning, but he stayed in it,” Nelson said. “He continues to improve.”
Verot answered back in the second, leading off the frame with two straight base hits and Matthew Cedarburg drove in a run to cut the lead in half.
After putting two on with no outs in the fourth, Blaze Alexander was thrown out trying to steal third. However, Carson Smith made up for it by tagging a hanging 2-2 curveball over the left-field fence to put Verot up 3-2.
The Vikings loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth, but Mooney reliever Josh Bonynge struck out Alex Irwin and induced a harmless Cedarburg pop out in the infield. With two outs, Alexander scored on a wild pitch and junior Mike Green — normally a starter but on the bench to allow Verot to have a left-handed hitter in the lineup in Ivan Cotto — sent a pinch-hit single to right field to score Cotto.
Gunner Byrd retired four consecutive hitters in relief for Verot before a Tyler Mattes single with one out. Mooney senior Tyler Strong sent a rocket to the gap in right center, but Cramer somehow tracked it down and was able to spin and throw a dart to double Strong off first to end the game.
“At first, I thought I was going to have to dive for it, but then I realized I could get to it,” Cramer said. “Then I heard the (Mooney) third base coach telling the runner to come to him so I knew I had him.”
Whether it was Dwyer’s pitching performance, Green’s RBI-pinch-hit single, Cramer’s web gem or his own blast to left field, Smith said all of the great plays are creating a great deal of momentum for the club that has spent the season growing up before Vikings fans’ eyes.
“It’s brought enlightenment,” Smith said. “We know we’re getting better. Some teams may have underrated us, but, at this point, we’re playing our best and are here to get as many Ws as we can.”