Pace Edges Niceville To Win District 6A-1 Championship
Could there be any other ending to the story?
The Pace Patriots completed an unlikely charge through this week’s District 6A-1 playoffs by winning Thursday night’s championship game at Navarre High with a 3-2 win over the Niceville Eagles. Having dispatched their biggest rivals, the Tate Aggies, with a huge semifinal victory on Wednesday, it seemed nothing could stop the Patriots (15-12) from finishing the job and claiming the district title.
Trailing by a run, the Patriots rallied for two scores in the fourth inning that reversed their fortunes. Now Pace will host in the opening round of next week’s regional playoffs, against the 6A-2 runners up between the Buchholz Bobcats (18-6-1) and Chiles Timberwolves (19-7). Niceville also advances into regionals, where it will travel to face the 6A-2 champion.
The Eagles (16-9) beat Pace twice during the regular season, with a pair of one-run victories that served as a precursor to Thursday’s action. Niceville took a 5-4 home win on February 19th, and also a 1-0 decision at Pace on March 25th. So it came as little surprise that the contest was again decided by the slimmest of margins.
The seesaw battle got started right away, as Jackson McKenzie went deep to center field for a solo home run and a 1-0 Pace lead in the top of the first inning. Niceville immediately responded in the bottom half of the frame to tie it back up. Brady Koger led off with a walk, advanced thanks to a sacrifice bunt from William Marcantonio and then scored off an RBI single from Zack Bale.
The following inning, the Eagles grabbed the lead. Ethan Edge was hit by a pitch and then advanced into scoring position when Trey Wainright grounded out, and Jay Marquardt delivered a liner to left for an RBI single and a 2-1 Niceville advantage.
Pace answered back in the top of the fourth with the deciding runs. With one out, Jaxson Kirchharr walked and Owen Walters singled, and Brent Cadenhead dropped down a bunt and reached on an error that tied the game. Griffin Cordova then executed a squeeze bunt back to the pitcher that allowed Walters to come across the plate with the winning score.
In perhaps the biggest play of the night, the Patriots caught a runner stealing home to end the bottom of the fifth. Marquardt and Koger had back-to-back base hits to put runners on the corners, before Marquardt gave way to a courtesy runner for a double-steal attempt. But the Pace defense was ready for it and got the lead runner.
Niceville threatened one last time, when two runners reached with two outs in the seventh. But Pace reliever Wyatt Goodale closed off his night by recording a swinging strikeout for the final out, his tenth strikeout of the game. Goodale earned the win with six scoreless innings, allowing three hits and a walk.