Title Hopes Dashed As North Florida Christian Falls To Canterbury
It was something that the Canterbury Cougars had done before, and yet it was also something totally new and special. Thursday evening the Cougars successfully defended their Class 3A state crown by defeating the North Florida Christian Eagles 6-1 at Hammond Stadium, and in doing so the program became only the third school in state history to ever win three straight state championships.
In winning each of the past three 3A titles, Canterbury joins elite company with the Westminster Christian Warriors and the Archbishop McCarthy Mavericks. The Warriors won three straight from 1996 to 1998, while the Mavericks won three-in-a-row from 2015 to 2017, and also won four straight from 2010 to 2013 as the only team in the state to ever accomplish four straight… so far.
Certainly none of the Cougars were looking ahead yet, having defied the odds in winning a title game they went into feeling like underdogs. It takes a clever coach to convince a two-time defending state champion it is an underdog, but Cougars manager Frank Turco enjoys a unique and close relationship with his players.
“This was the toughest one,” Canterbury manager Frank Turco said. “It just says a lot about the grit and determination. It is like any family, we butted heads and things were tough, just like a family goes. This one was special, just because there were some naysayers out there.”
The Eagles got on the scoreboard to take an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Matthew Dickey was hit by a pitch, timed it up and stole second base and then advanced to third base off a passed ball. Brandon Walker then connected on a shot deep to center for a sac-fly RBI.
Canterbury answered right back and grabbed the lead with three runs in the top of the third. Trennon Turco got it started with a single to left, and Danny Cunningham made solid contact with Trennon in motion on a hit-and-run for a base hit past first that put runners on the corners.
A day after struggling offensively in the semifinals, the Cougars’ offense was off and running. Nick Vanderhof then got a grounder to the right side for an RBI ground out that got the scoring started. Levi Shuck kept it going with an RBI double on a scorcher deep to center, and courtesy-runner William Shea got moving and scored on an RBI single to center from Santino Cervone.
The Cougars extended their lead with a pair of runs in the fourth. Trennon reached on a fielder’s choice and both Cunningham and Vanderhof walked to load up the bases. Giovanni DiGiacomo then reached on an error that allowed two runners to cross the plate. Canterbury kept adding on with another run in the fifth. Cooper Weiss singled to left and advanced into scoring position thanks to a sacrifice bunt from Cervone, before crossing the plate after Will Cialone reached on an error.
Meanwhile, the Eagles initiated plenty of scoring opportunities by loading the bases in three straight innings as plate discipline led to numerous walks issued to them. But the Cougars managed to avoid any serious damage each time. North Florida Christian finally connected for its first hit of the day in the bottom of the fifth, on a single up the middle from Major Posey following a walk to Brandon Walker. But Canterbury again quelled that threat with back-to-back strikeouts from reliever Bryce Einstein.
“It was just one of those days that everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong,” North Florida Christian manager Mike Posey said. “We just didn’t play well enough to win the game. It was very uncharacteristic of what we’ve been doing all year. That’s baseball. It’s one of those games that you have to play well at the end, and we just didn’t.”
The Eagles return a solid nucleus of players around its 2019 senior class next season, including Walker and Major Posey to anchor the pitching staff. Having reached one of their goals in getting the program back to the state tournament this season, many of them will have the chance to come back for another crack at it next year.
“This is a good group,” Coach Posey said. “They work really hard, and this was two or three years in the making. We hadn’t been here in a few years and today it kind of stings, but if you look back we really accomplished a lot. We were a very good team and you cannot take away the things we did to get here.”