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Pensacola Catholic Ousts Defending Champ In 4A Semifinals

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Pensacola Catholic was facing a daunting task on Friday afternoon in their 4A state semifinal. Staring at them from the opposing dugout was the defending champion Calvary Christian Eagles. The Eagles did everything they could to send the Crusaders home in the first six innings, building a 3-1 lead.

The Crusaders, however, made one last stand in the seventh, mounting a furious three-run rally, and then holding on in the bottom half of the inning to advance to the championship game with a 4-3 victory.

“We don’t put too much pressure on these guys,” said Pensacola Manager Sonny Reedy. “We just let them go out and play their game. They always stay calm, and have been coming from behind all year, so the outcome wasn’t all that surprising to us coaches.”

The game began with Calvary swinging the bats early against Pensacola senior starter JC Carrell. A one-out single by Dante Girardi, followed by a base hit from Ben Rozenblum, had the Eagles in business. When the pair executed a double steal and the ball ended up in left field on the throw to third, the Eagles had an early 1-0 lead.

Calvary starter Jake Eder settled in after working out of a bases loaded jam in the first. With the pitchers trading zeroes over the next few innings, Calvary came up in the fourth and threatened to break open the game. Christian Scott led off with a triple. Cameron Stadler then struck out, but reached first when the ball got away. Victor Pimentel, who had two hits on the day for the Eagles, folowed with an RBI sacrifice fly, extending the lead to 2-0.

Tyler Knierimreached on an error, and Daley Weppner walked, loading the bases, and setting the stage for the defensive play of the game. De La Fe hit a hard ground ball to second that Donovan Whibbs and TJ Yates were able to turn into a double play, ending the threat.

“That double play in the fourth really changed the game,” said Calvary Manager Alan Kunkel. “At that point we were up two, and had we scored a couple more runs that would have been a lot to overcome that late in the game.”

Reedy agreed.

“When we turned that double play, it seemed to change the momentum a little bit,” said Reedy. “That kept the game close until we were able to get the bats going there at the end.”

In their half of the sixth, the Crusaders finally broke through against Eder. Matthew Estrada and Donovan Benoit both worked walks. At that point, the Eagles went to last year’s state title run hero, Christian Scott. With runners on first and third, Devin Whitehead singled, cutting the lead to 2-1. Scott was able to work out of the inning without further harm.

When Calvary answered the Crsuaders run with one of their own in the bottom of the sixth, most in attendance were expecting Scott to close out the Crusaders and send the defending champions back to the title game.

Pensacola hitters had other ideas.

Catcher Cole Moore led of the seventh with a single to center, another turning point in a game filled with emotional swings.

“I tried by hardest not to give him a take sign,” said Reedy, of his catcher. “We were thinking about taking a strike down two, but we let the guys play, and I am glad we did.”

Carl Gindl followed with a double. Estrada then came up and tripled, clearing the bases and tying the game at three.

“I knew when I hit it I had to get to third,” said Estrada.

Benoit then lifted a fly ball to center, scoring Estrada, and giving the Crusaders the lead.

From there, Estrada, who was on in relief of Carrell, induced two quick flyouts and closed the game with a strikeout, sending the Crsuaders faithful into a frenzy.

Even with the loss, Kunkel would not have done anything different.

“We had our two aces out there on the mound, a formula we followed all season, and they just beat us,” said Kunkel. “It’s baseball, and things aren’t always going to go as planned. They had a big inning at the right time.”

The next step for Pensacola will be the state final on Saturday night.

“We are always going to play hard and have as many quality at-bats as we can,” said Estrada. “Now we only have one more game to go out and execute and hopefully win a state title.”

Pensacola Catholic manager Sonny Reidy talks about the comeback win to reach the 4A state final.

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Carl Gindl discusses Pensacola Catholic's late rally to victory.

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