The star pitcher can't buy a strike, the calls go the other way and a chance at a title ends in a 3-1 loss in the semifinals.
By SCOTT PURKS
Published May 27, 2004
TAMPA - Jesuit's Mike Branham threw his first 10 pitches everywhere from 5 feet behind the batter to 5 feet in front of the plate to 5 feet over the catcher's head.
Ten pitches. All way off the strike zone (two balls were swung at for strikes).
And it came off the right arm of one of the best high school pitchers in the country in the biggest game of his life, a Class 3A state semifinal at Legends Field.
It was - and there isn't a better word for it - surreal.
It also set the tone for the night.
After Branham was pulled after two hitters, nothing seemed to go Jesuit's way in its 3-1 loss to Pensacola Catholic.
Tiger runners were thrown out by 3 feet at second base, another was called out after getting hit by a grounder as he charged toward third, another was called out trying to steal home. Bang-bang plays that could have gone either way were called Pensacola's way, and because Pensacola's Patrick Bryant was on the mound, Jesuit needed the little things in its favor.
Bryant, 13-0 with a .55 ERA coming in, allowed one unearned run on four hits and struck out six.
"You feel a little different when you have one of the best pitchers in the state throwing for you," Pensacola Catholic coach Richard LaBounty said. "I kept saying if we score three runs we'll win the ballgame.
"When we got those two runs early (in the first inning) we felt pretty good."
The first run scored after leadoff hitter Shane Moye walked and advanced all the way on wild pitches. The second hitter, David Karasek, scored after walking, advancing to second on a wild pitch and coming home on a single.
That hit, however, came off Tiger sophomore reliever Sam Dyson, who hung tough for the next five innings, giving up only one unearned run.
Fitting in with the night, that runner went around the bases on unheard-of Jesuit sloppiness. He scored after being hit by a pitch, advancing to second on a passed ball, to third on a wild pitch and home on a throwing error by the first baseman.
"Tonight wasn't Michael (Branham's) fault or any of the pitchers' faults," Jesuit coach John Crumbley said. "We had plenty of opportunities and we just didn't get it done. We left too many runners on base and didn't have things go our way.
"This was a great team (28-3) that simply didn't play well in the last game of the year."