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North Florida Christian Moves On To 3A State Championship

Carson Neal is greeted at home plate after his three-run home run in the third inning.

Facing such tough pitching as expected at this level, hitters have to make the right adjustments in order to find success. North Florida Christian catcher Carson Neal noticed something important while he was facing Carrollwood Day ace Gabriel Partridge, and that proved to be all the difference.

Carson connected on an off-speed delivery and delivered a shot that slowly carried in the wind and over the left field fence for the difference in the game, as North Florida Christian held on for a 3-2 win over Carrollwood Day in the Class 3A state semifinal at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers on Wednesday morning.

“He was just quick to the plate, and I really got a lot off of his fastball,” Carson said. “We kind of took advantage of that, because knowing he was really quick to the plate that meant his offspeed all looks the same as his fastball. So we were able to sit back on his offspeed better than hitting his fastball. In two-strike counts you just have to keep battling and put the bat on the ball, because something good can always happen.”

The Eagles (25-3) will host the two-time defending 3A state champion Canterbury Cougars in Thursday’s 3A state championship, at 4 PM at Hammond Stadium. Canterbury (26-5) advanced with a 4-3 win over John Carroll in Wednesday’s other 3A state semifinal.

With both clubs trotting out an ace hurler on the mound, runs were at a premium. In the bottom of the third, Trent Phillips and JD Tease both connected for a pair of singles to apply the pressure. Partridge responded to record two quick outs to nearly escape the threat unharmed, before Carson reached down on a 3-2 offering and changed the course of the action.

Junior right-hander Brandon Walker went the distance on the mound for the Eagles, allowing one earned run while recording eight strikeouts for the win.

“I got a good pitch over, and it was a low changeup,” Partridge said. “I thought we had a chance to catch it, but it went over the fence. It was just a good swing and a good piece of hitting with two strikes. That was all they needed was those three runs.”

The Patriots (23-4) answered right back to stay in the game, responding with both of their runs in the top of the fourth inning. Zachary Watts drew a two-out walk and Andre Hevesy jumped on the first pitch he saw for a base hit to shallow right field, which then allowed Zachary to score off a throwing error. Kyle Benedict was then hit by a pitch to bring up Dillon Baker, who connected for the first of three hits on the day with an RBI single to right field.

“Battling back and finding a way has been what we have done this season,” Patriots manager Ken Akins said, while recalling so many of the exciting comebacks his club delivered during their playoff run. “It’s something that I know that each and every one of these guys has in them. They have proven it year-after-year and game-after-game, so when we were down 3-0 that was the first thing that comes to your mind is that we have an opportunity to come back. We got two; we just couldn’t get that last one.”

Pitching had a lot to do with why Carrollwood Day was unable to muster that final bit of crucial offense.
Eagles right-hander Brandon Walker made the start and never gave up the ball, going the full seven innings for the victory. The junior struck out eight while surrendering one earned run on six hits and a walk.

Partridge also went the distance for his club. The senior allowed six hits and a walk and struck out ten.

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