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Graham grits out victory

The pitcher allows five in the sixth to Cape Coral Mariner but the Gaither ace has enough to lead his team to a 7-6 win and a first state final berth.

By SCOTT PURKS, Times Staff Writer
Published May 26, 2005

SARASOTA - Where was Frank Permuy?

Gaither's coach was sitting in the dugout watching his ace, Caleb Graham, run out of gas and his six-run lead run down the drain.

It was the bottom of the sixth inning of a Class 5A state semifinal and Cape Coral Mariner had just scored five runs on an error and four weak hits.

Gaither was clinging to a 7-6 lead with the bases loaded as Graham's pitch count climbed over 100.

Permuy didn't budge.

"Never crossed my mind to take him out," the coach said. "You have to stick with your best."

Up stepped Mariner's cleanup hitter, Mark Rose, and Graham said he thought to himself, "Get a strike and keep it down."

Three strikes later Graham was pumping his fist and Gaither was trotting off the field.

"I never got nervous," Graham said. "I just tried to stay focused."

In the final inning, though admittedly "drained," Graham retired the side on a popup, a ground out and a fly to centerfield.

"I told myself the same thing (before the bottom of the seventh)," Graham said. "Get ahead and keep the ball down."

Gaither (26-5) reached its first state final in school history at 7 tonight against Davie Nova, which didn't get a hit in its semifinal, but still beat Jacksonville Wolfson 1-0.

Gaither also was outhit 9-7, but the Cowboys collected more timely hits - five in the second and third innings when they scored all of their runs.

In the second, the Cowboys scored three on a hit, an error and a passed ball. In the third, they collected four hits to score its final four.

And they did it against a pitcher, Casey Coleman, who came in 14-0 with a 1.64 ERA.

"He was throwing pretty hard but he was getting his pitches up," Gaither first baseman Daniel Dwyer said. "He was pretty good but he wasn't anything that we haven't seen before."

Mariner coach Steve Larsen said Coleman and his team weren't as sharp as they've been.

"We got behind in the count, we made crucial errors, we didn't get hits at crucial times," Larsen said. "Gaither did the things tonight that we did to beat teams this season. ...

"But we didn't quit. We came back. Just one more hit and we might still be playing."

Gaither's starter today will be sophomore Chris Jones, who comes in 8-0 with three shutouts and a 0.83 ERA. He also comes in with a degree of confidence.

"When I heard (Nova) was ranked No. 1 in the country earlier this season I was hoping that I could pitch against them," Jones said. "No, I'm not nervous. I can't wait."

[Last modified May 26, 2005, 01:18:13]


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