Nate Huegel's blast in the eighth inning sends East Lake to its first state championship game.
By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 19, 2002
TAMPA -- It's a good thing Nate Huegel listened to the first base umpire. Otherwise, the East Lake catcher might have sprinted around the bases and not gotten the opportunity to savor the biggest hit of his life.
Huegel took the first pitch he saw in the top of the eighth inning and promptly parked it behind the leftfield fence.
His home run sparked a six-run inning that led to East Lake's 11-5 Class 5A semifinal win over Chamberlain. The Eagles (28-4) will play Lynn Haven Mosley in their first state championship game at 4 p.m. today at Legends Field.
Huegel was a hero all night for East Lake, hitting a two-run single in the third to give the Eagles a 3-0 lead before going deep off of Chamberlain reliever Steve Howard in the eighth.
His home run down the leftfield line hit bounced off the foul pole. It was so close, Huegel was sprinting when he rounded first only to be reeled back to a trot by the umpire circling his finger to signal a home run.
"I thought the ball was going foul," Huegel said. "I was just trying to get a double out of it."
That home run, the fourth of the tournament, capped a wild night between two teams making their state tournament debuts.
East Lake weathered two Chamberlain rallies, including a two-run sixth in which the Chiefs tied the game 5-5. Chamberlain (14-13) could have scored what would have been the winning run in that inning, but D.J. Burruezo was thrown out at home on the back end of a delayed double steal to end the inning.
"I told (Burruezo) that if he thought he could get the base, take the base," Chamberlain coach Dick Rohrberg. "We were trying to take advantage of something. Being aggressive is what got us here and that's how we were going to play tonight."
East Lake jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first four innings with three of those runs coming in the third on singles by Bill Manion, Huegel and Mike Guidi.
The Eagles scored another in the fourth, chasing Chamberlain starter Devon Cason, who was replaced by Howard. That turned out to be the best move Rohrberg made all night -- until the eighth.
Howard shut down the Eagles during the next three innings, retiring nine of the first 10 batters he faced. Then came Huegel's home run and away went the Chiefs' title hopes.