THURSDAY, May 18, 2017

Worth the wait - Sailors win twice-delayed semi-final on Larson's walk-off hit

Source: Published by Herald-Tribune - John Lembo


SARASOTA - Prior to taking one of the biggest swings of his young baseball career, Sarasota High senior Brooks Larson got a few words of encouragement from a guy who has lived through his share of big at-bats: Clyde Metcalf, the Sailors’ legendary head coach.


“He told me I have to be a senior here,” Larson said, “and to step up and just have fun. So I just let loose and had fun.”


That he did. With one out and one on in the bottom of the eighth, Larson laced a double to right-center to score John Mucci and give Sarasota a 3-2 win over Tarpon Springs East Lake in a Class 8A-Region 2 semifinal that began on Tuesday and ended less than hour before Wednesday bled into Thursday.


Sarasota (22-9) hosts Lutz Steinbrenner on Tuesday for the Region 2 championship game, with the winner heading to Fort Myers for the state semifinals on June 2.


“This has been these guys all year,” said Metcalf, whose Sailors have won three straight postseason games by one run. “They just don’t give in.”


The game began Tuesday night before rain arrived. East Lake, which was late getting to Ronald K. Drews Field on Tuesday because of traffic jam, loaded the bases with two out in the top of the first before the game was suspended. Action resumed from that point Wednesday, and Larson, Sarasota’s starting pitcher, struck Aaron Wabnitz on a 2-2 fastball.


The Sailors took the lead in the third on an RBI single from Cole Madden, and Larson made the lead stand until the fifth, when the Eagles put runners on first and second courtesy of a Sarasota error and a hit batsman.


Enter more rain. The game was delayed for more than an hour as Sarasota’s players and volunteers tended to the field with sand and push brooms. When the game resumed, the Eagles tied the game at one when Madden, in relief of Larson, hit Jakob Sessa with the bases loaded.


Sarasota put the leadoff man on in the sixth and seventh innings but rolled into inning-ending double plays each time.


“I was getting a little worried,” Metcalf said. “We were getting guys on but couldn’t get over the hump.”


East Lake took a 2-1 lead in its half of the eighth when Sessa lead off with a double and went to third when Seth Caballes’ sacrifice bunt attempt turned into an infield hit. The Eagles loaded the bases with one out, and Ivan Cruz hit a slow chopper to third baseman Josh Paige, who was playing in for the force at home. Paige’s throw beat Sessa home, but Sessa’s slide knocked the ball free from catcher Ben McCabe. The umpire ruled McCabe didn’t have control long enough to record the force out.


Madden bounced back, however, striking out Sean Murray and getting Wilbur Vargas on a fly out. It was third time East Lake left the bases loaded.


“That’s what we told Cole from the dugout — ‘Limit the damage,’ ” Metcalf said. “A one-run lead and the pressure is still on them.”


Alex Arauz led off bottom of the eighth with a single — his third of the night — and went to second on a fielding error by right fielder Christian Sieman. After Madden flied out, Mucci’s double knotted the game at 2 before Larson’s double sent Sarasota’s side of the field into hysterics.


“They left no doubt there in the eighth inning,” Metcalf said.


And now the Sailors are two wins away from another final four.


“We’re just having fun,” Larson said. “We’re not doing this for any money. We’re just having fun.”