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Eagles' title slips away

[Times photo: Toni Sandys]
East Lake catcher Nate Huegel looks up in disbelief as Mosley celebrates its Class 5A state title.

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002

TAMPA -- It was a play his teammates say he makes 99 times out of 100. But Saturday in the seventh inning of the state championship game at Legends Field, that one time he didn't came back to haunt East Lake and shortstop Jeff Germano. Darren Golema's bouncer snuck past the glove of Germano, took the Eagles' title hopes with it into the outfield and scored the final two runs to cap a stunning 8-7 comeback win by Lynn Haven Mosley.

The Dolphins (25-9), who won their first state title, scored four runs in sixth and four in the seventh to erase a 7-0 deficit.

"I have no idea how we lost," East Lake catcher Nate Huegel said. "I don't know how it happened. I just don't know."

It happened like this: The Dolphins scratched out six hits, mostly on ground balls, and took advantage of two East Lake errors to put together one of the biggest comebacks in title game history.

"We were looking great," Eagles starting pitcher Mike Billek said. "Ahead 7-0, we just let it slip away."

Billek allowed two hits through five innings and had a comfortable lead after the Eagles scored one run in the first, three unearned runs in the fourth and two in the fifth on Mike Guidi's two-run double. East Lake scored its final run in the sixth. But pitching for the second time in less than 18 hours, Billek, who won Friday's semifinal in relief, appeared to tire in the sixth. Though Mosley failed to hit a ball hard, it managed a bloop double by Kyle Pearson to score two runs and scored another two on ground balls. The Eagles (28-5) loaded the bases with one out in the top of the seventh, but failed to score any insurance runs, which proved costly. The Eagles stranded six runners in the last three innings.

"Was I disappointed?" East Lake coach Lee Byers said. "That's not the word I would use. I maybe can't tell you the word I'd like to use."

With Billek over 100 pitches, Mosley started its final rally with a groundout. Marc Maclean, Clete Thomas and Jeff Boutwell singled to load the bases and finally forced Billek out of the game.

Byers then called on C.K. Gordon (5-1) to finish off the Dolphins. His first pitch, though, hit Pearson on the helmet to make it 7-5.

After a groundout made it 7-6 and put runners on second and third with two outs, Golema hit a 3-2 curveball toward Germano. Pearson, running to third, dodged the ball and might have distracted Germano as the ball skipped past to score the tying and winning runs. "I've played with Jeff since Little League and nine times out of 10 he gets that ball," Eagles second baseman Chris Coghlan said. "I thought he had it."

Despite playing an eight-inning game that lasted until 11:51 p.m. the previous night, the Eagles showed few signs of fatigue early. Kyle Ripley drove in the first run with a sacrifice fly, and the Eagles worked their way through five Dolphins pitchers.

But in the end, Byers said the two biggest games of his players' lives in such a short span might have taken a toll.

Billek agreed. "We ran out of gas," he said. "I didn't get to bed until 2 a.m. last night, but I still felt fine. ... But you have to give credit to Mosley; they never gave up."

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