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Win the numbers game,and win the baseball game

With the state tournament starting today at Legends Field, here is a formula for victory.

Published May 24, 2004

TAMPA - People talk about Tampa Catholic's 8-7 victory over Marianna in the 2001 state semifinal like it was the most remarkable comeback in the history of baseball.

Last at-bat. Down 7-2. Facing Marianna senior Alan Horne, who threw 95 mph and was a first-round pick in the amateur draft two weeks later.

TC designated hitter Brian Nowotny stepped in, and history was played out in the following order: Single, single, double, walk, single, single, single, sacrifice bunt, intentional walk and single - the last by Nowotny.

Then, pandemonium at Legends Field like no one has seen before or since.

What were the odds?

Considering that in a Times analysis of 55 state tournament games since 2000 only five teams have come back from a three-run lead to win, the odds of that TC victory are way, way out there.

No coach in his right mind would take those odds.

They would want to the play the percentages the way Tampa Catholic did in the next day's state championship game, which TC won 5-3 over Orlando Bishop Moore.

* Score first: TC took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. In the state tournament analysis, the team that scored first won 73 percent of the time.

* Get more hits: TC had eight hits to Bishop Moore's seven. Teams with more hits won 82 percent of the games.

* Steal more bases: TC had one stolen base, Bishop Moore none. Teams with more stolen more bases won 67 percent of those games.

* Walk more: TC walked three times to Bishop Moore's two. Teams with more walks won at a rate of 67 percent.

* Make fewer mistakes: This was a push, with both teams committing two errors. According the analysis, however, you don't want to have more mistakes than your opponent. Teams committing more errors lost 72 percent of the time.

Some might look at the statistics and say, "But TC had only one more stolen base, and one more hit and one more walk, so what's the big deal?"

"It's a very big deal," said Bloomingdale coach K.B. Scull, who leads his team into Friday's state Class 6A semifinal against Miami Killian. "We preach all the time that it's the little things that are important. ...

"And I'll bet just about everything (in the Times analysis) comes back to pitching and defense. Teams that score first often win because the pitchers at that level are so darned good that they hold the leads. And teams that get more hits and win, well, that's because the winning team's pitcher probably shut down the losing team.

"I'm afraid to keep talking about it because I'm afraid I'm going to jinx us, but the thing we do real is catch it. We haven't made many errors, and to me that's so, so important."

None of the percentages in the analysis surprised Jesuit coach John Crumbley, who this season won his 500th career game, including three state titles.

Crumbley wasn't even surprised by the fact that base stealers were successful in 70 percent of their attempts (117 of 167).

"I think the teams that make it here are aggressive and many are looking to run if they have any speed," Crumbley said. "They try and put pressure on the opponent as much as possible, always working to get runners in scoring position."

Which fits with the numbers.

In the analysis, when the leadoff hitter started an inning at first base he scored 45 percent of the time, but when the leadoff started the inning at second base (via a double, or an error on a single), he scored 85 percent of the time.

"Makes sense to me," Scull said. "You need to keep that runner from advancing, and on the other side you have to find a way to move those runners around.

"Bottom line is you have to execute. Whatever the detail might be, you have to execute it better."

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