State semifinals next week in Fort Myers
PORT ST. JOE _ Port St. Joe provided testimony Tuesday night in advance of next week’s state final four in Fort Myers.
The Region 2-1A champs are no ordinary 16-12 squad.
For the second time in the past two weeks the Tiger Sharks applied a run-rule loss to former state No. 1 Bozeman (25-4), winning 10-0 before a huge home crowd at Centennial Field.
Elijah Hester throttled the Bucks over five frames, allowing four hits while striking out two and, most importantly, not walking a batter.
Meanwhile, the Tiger Sharks took advantage of every opening offered, putting up crooked numbers in three of the four innings they came to bat.
“Over the past couple of weeks we have been swinging the bat good,” said Port St. Joe first-year coach Ashley Summerlin. “Guys have been stepping up in the big moments.
“They have really bought into the process we’ve been asking them to go through, hitting the ball up the middle when it is there, taking the big swings when we need to.”
Port St. Joe knocked down the door early.
In the bottom of the first inning, with starter Cade Parker unable to locate the strike zone, the Tiger Sharks loaded the bases with no outs via two walks and an error.
Caleb Butts was hit by a pitch to drive in one run, Jaden Grantland hit a fielder’s choice grounder to plate another and John Austin Gee singled another run home to make it 3-0.
“We dug an early hole we couldn’t get out of,” said Bozeman coach Jeff Patton. “We had a good plan coming in, we just didn’t execute.
“It has been no fun (losing two run-rule postseason games to Port St. Joe). But that is baseball. We played better tonight than we did in the district title game, but they beat us in every way.”
The Tiger Sharks stretched the lead to 7-0 in the bottom of the third after Camron Harmon ended the top half by firing a perfect strike after scooping up a single to right to nail Parker, trying to score from second, at the plate.
The home half started with Caleb Butts reaching on a catcher’s error after striking out.
Bryce Register singled to center and Grantland put down a bunt to advance both runners.
Gee walked and Brandon Brant drove in a run with a fielder’s choice grounder.
Harmon followed with a long triple to left-center to drive in two and Kelvin Griffin dribbled a single through the left side of the infield for another run.
Bozeman went in order in the fourth and Port St. Joe added three more runs in the bottom of the inning, all with two outs.
Register singled to right-center and Grantland singled to center before Gee plated Register with a single to left.
Brant drove in two with a double to right-center, the last of Port St. Joe’s 10 hits.
It was left to Hester to put the Bucks down in order in the fifth, invoking the run rule and igniting a boisterous celebration for a team that at midseason was under.500 and on a six-game losing streak.
“I never would have thought of us being able to do this back in January,” Summerlin said, noting that he was third coach for the Tiger Sharks since last season ended.
“What these guys have been through and to be able to come together and do this, it is amazing.”
Port St. Joe 7, Freeport 2
In the region semifinals, Port St. Joe handled visiting Freeport last Thursday to earn a spot in the region title game.
Hester started on the mound for Port St. Joe, tossing a gem, allowing one hit over 6 2/3 innings while walking two and striking out four; both Freeport runs were unearned.
Hester carried his no-hitter into the sixth inning.
Chris Stockton came on to get the final two outs.
The big inning was the Port St. Joe half of the third.
Gee walked, Harmon and Griffin followed with bunt singles to load the bases.
Caden Turrell turned on a pitch and blasted a grand-slam home run down the right-field line to make it 4-0.
Josh Butts hit Port St. Joe’s first home run of the season in the district championship game against Bozeman.
The Tiger Sharks scuffled a bit in the field in the top of the fourth as Freeport plated two runs.
But in the bottom half of the frame, Grantland doubled and Brant singled in a run as a response.
Caleb Butts had a run-scoring single and Register a run-scoring double as Port St. Joe stretched the lead.