ST. PETERSBURG — In order to beat the Canterbury baseball team, ranked second in the state by MaxPreps, in Tuesday’s Region 3A-3 semifinal, St. Petersburg Northside Christian had to play near perfectly. Instead, the Mustangs got behind early and could not recover in a 6-2 loss.
The Cougars (29-1) advance to Tuesday’s regional final. Northside Christian ends its season 24-7.
Northside Christian’s young lineup could not afford to get behind early, but that’s what happened. Canterbury jumped on Mustangs’ starter Brendan Tracy in the first inning. Cooper Swanson bunted for a base hit with one out. Sam Keating followed with a double that put runners on second and third.
After a hit by pitch loaded the bases, Michael Matter singled in a run. A fielder’s choice by Giovanni Lorenzo made it 2-0.
Canterbury got two more in the third, highlighted by a two RBI single by Lorenzo. It became 6-0 in the fourth when the Cougars scored two runs on a throwing error.
Play was delayed for about 15 minutes in the bottom of the fourth inning when Mustangs’ coach Raul Hernandez was hit with a line drive foul ball. Hernandez was just outside the first base dugout toward home plate when a hard liner from Ty McGeehan hit him in the nose. He eventually walked out of the dugout on his own power and was treated by paramedics who arrived by ambulance. Hernandez did not leave in the ambulance, but was driven to the hospital for x-rays.
Once play resumed, the Mustangs got the Cougars out in order in the top of the fifth inning and then put together a rally that cut the lead to 6-2. Brian Fuller doubled off Canterbury reliever Bryan Eberle and Pierce Chambers walked to put two men on. Evan Dolan was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Canterbury put starter Sam Keating, a Clemson commit, back in the game (he remained in the game as a position player). Luke Vari hit a long fly to right that allowed Fuller to tag and score from third. The second run came when Chambers was caught in a run down between third and home. And errant throw to third brought Chambers home to cut it to 6-2.
“We rolled the dice a little bit and it didn’t work for us,’’ Canterbury coach Frank Turco said. “But we were able to bring Sam back in. His pitch count wasn’t that high. He pitched a great game. All year long our pitching and defense has been key for us so it is only fitting that it came through tonight.’’
After the fifth inning, Northside Christian got only one hit off Keating. The Mustangs had three hits total.
“We knew we had to eliminate our mistakes,’’ Mustangs’ assistant coach Robert Rodriguez said. “We had to take care of the baseball and be aggressive offensively. We were, but their guy is a very good pitcher. He took over the game for them. And I think we were a little jittery early in the game.’’