Canterbury Rallies Past North Florida Christian To 3A Final
An unearned run in the fifth inning proved to be the difference in a tight battle at Thursday’s 3A state semifinal at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, as the Canterbury Cougars rallied for a 4-3 victory over the North Florida Christian Eagles. It is the second straight year that the Cougars have ended the Eagles’ season, after Canterbury won its third consecutive state title by defeating North Florida Christian in last year’s championship. Now Canterbury seeks to become only the second team in state history to win four-in-a-row, when it takes on the Lakeland Christian Vikings in Saturday’s 3A finale.
The victory was no easy accomplishment, as two of the top teams in the state battled to the finish. Canterbury notched the deciding run in the fifth to break a tie ball game. Will Cialone was hit by a pitch, eighth-grader Austin Schrowe singled to left and catcher Camillo Lilleslatten reached on an error that allowed Cialone to cross the plate with the winning run.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Canterbury manager Frank Turco said. “We came into this game as the underdogs and we knew that; they brought everybody back and we lost some players. The grit that our boys showed was amazing. We pitched around a few of their guys and walked them on purpose, because we were going to take our chances with other guys. Sometimes in baseball it pays off and today it paid off for us. Our coaching staff did an amazing job and our players bought into doing what we asked.”
Both sides withstood early scoring threats, before the offenses got rolling the second time through the batting orders. After opening with two scoreless frames, the two sides notched five total runs to rev up the excitement in the third inning.
The Eagles put some ducks on the pond to set the stage, as Jacob Granger and Josiah Miller both drew walks to start the frame. Starting pitcher Brandon Walker then lined a shot to left field for an RBI double, before then giving way to courtesy runner Jonathan Railey. Carson Neal walked to load up the bases for Major Posey, who sent a shot to the left-center field gap that drove in a pair for a 3-0 advantage.
“My first at bat he gave me a 3-2 slider and I swung underneath it, but I was on time. So when I came back, he got me on two strikes and I kept battling and I barreled a slider for a single,” Major said.
Canterbury answered right back in the bottom half of the inning. Julian Meyers singled to right to start things off and then Cialone jumped on the first offering he saw and crushed it deep to the left field wall for an RBI double that got the Cougars on the scoreboard. Bryce Einstein followed with a liner to left field for another RBI double that pulled his team within a run.
“We had good approaches against Walker,” Turco said. “He threw great but we didn’t try to do too much. We didn’t have any superheroes; we just tried to do the little things. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
An inning later Canterbury evened things back up. Lilleslatten walked and was replaced on the bases by courtesy runner Rick Zalewski. Santino Cervone singled to put runners on the corners, and Cooper Weiss then reached on an error that allowed Zalewski to come home.
Cougars side-arm reliever Bryce Einstein closed out the final four innings to earn the victory and improve to 6-3 on the year. The senior captain allowed one hit and four walks and struck out three, while successfully keeping the Eagles’ offense off-balance adjusting to his delivery angle.
“He had a great tail, he knew what he was doing and he knew how to work his pitches,” Josiah Miller admitted. “But he was flat when he was always working and away to lefties, and he was trying to bust righties inside. I kept telling people that we’ve just got to make the adjustments and expect the changeup, because that was his best pitch. He never threw anything like a slider or curveball; it was either a fastball or a changeup. He had control of the game and he dominated us.”
Einstein seemed to have his best stuff in the final inning. He retired the first batter with one pitch on an infield popup, then induced a soft liner to left field for the second out. He worked around Major Posey and issued a walk, but then got a swinging strikeout that ended the contest.
“I knew that with how much work we all put in at practice, all of these guys have always been there for me, no matter what I have been through both good and bad. We are not just one team but one family, all brothers out there,” Einstein said. “I knew that if they are giving me everything that they have out on that field then I couldn’t leave anything else in the pen. We just had to leave it all out there. I had to trust my defense, they trusted me back and we executed.”
Einstein is just one example of the impressive mental toughness all the Cougars exhibit. Poise and composure is a staple of how the team conducts its business, and Einstein highlighted that aspect of his program in how he conducted his business in closing out the victory.
“He’s been a guy who we know is going to live in the strike zone,” Turco said. “He’s smart enough and crafty enough pitcher to nibble in the strike zone and see what they will give him, and take what they give. He doesn’t try to overdo it. He did that and you could see the batters were getting a little frustrated. He’s been that guy for us all year and he came through again.”