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An emphatic return to the top

A 9-2 win gives Clearwater Central Catholic first state crown since 2002.

By BOB PUTNAM
Published May 16, 2007


SARASOTA - Jeff Ijjas did not exactly run from the field after a flyball settled in his glove for the final out. He skipped, leaped, then came back to earth again, rushing toward a place he and his teammates imagined they would be all season.

Finally he heaved himself into a pile of Clearwater Central Catholic players celebrating on the mound after a 9-2 victory over Winter Park Trinity Prep in the Class 3A state championship.

"It's hard to put into words what it's like to make a catch for the final out in the state final, " Ijjas said. "It's something you dream about. It's a great feeling, especially having Ryan Acosta pitching the way he did."

The Marauders got to this pile via the live right arm of Acosta, now buried deep under the scrum. Acosta threw a complete game, giving up five hits and two runs to lead CCC 26-4 to its fourth state title and first since 2002.

"I had so much energy running through me, from my head to my legs, " Acosta said. "I woke up early (Tuesday morning) just thinking about that final out."

Afterward, Acosta stood on the field with his teammates during the awards ceremony, his hands raised in victory, his face beaming, his name forever etched into school history.

The title allowed Acosta to let the disappointment of previous years melt away. But even in triumph, he knew he could not forget the tragedy that defined his life. His thoughts immediately turned to the one person who would not see him win an elusive title:

Oscar Acosta, his father.

Acosta has struggled to hold back the flood of memories from April 19, 2006. That was the day his father, a minor-league manager in the Yankees organization, was killed in a car accident outside of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

"My dad was my best friend and we cherished our time together, " Acosta said. "It's been difficult. But I have to understand that life goes on. I dedicated this game to my father and my mother (Kathy)."

Acosta started strong through the first two innings, allowing two walks and giving up no runs. He also got support from CCC's offense, which scored one run in the first and second innings.

The only glitch came in the third inning when Acosta gave up two runs on three hits.

With the score tied at 2, the Marauders' bats came to the rescue. CCC scored two in the fourth to take the lead for good.

Acosta cruised from there, allowing just two hits. But with the seventh inning approaching, Marauders coach Todd Vaughan decided to have Ryan Weber warm up in relief.

He wasn't needed. CCC added five runs in the seventh to put the game away.

"This turned out to be (Acosta's) game to finish, " Vaughan said. "It's nice that it was able to end like that."

In the end, Acosta emerged from the pile, his face flushed and sweaty, and returned to the mound. It was if he was treating his workplace like a shrine, hoping to savor the moment forever.

"If my dad was here, I'd tell him we finally got a chance to win a title, " Acosta said.

"I just wish he was here to see it."

Bob Putnam can be reached at putnam@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4169.

Marauders AB R H BI Saints AB R H BI

Mende ss 3 1 0 1 Prosser lf 4 1 1 0

Morelli 2b 4 0 2 3 Reaves 3b 4 0 1 0

Acosta p 3 0 1 1 Olenek cf 2 1 0 0

Roberts pr 0 1 0 0 Moroff rf 2 0 1 0

Upton 1b 4 0 1 0 Nthnson 1b 3 0 1 1

Malone pr 0 0 0 0 Mayer dh 2 0 1 1

Dowdell cf 3 2 2 0 Liput ss 3 0 0 0

Leone lf 4 1 1 1 Barclay 2b 2 0 0 0

McLemore dh 2 1 1 0 D'Assaro ph 1 0 0 0

Darr c 2 1 1 1 Cellini c 3 0 0 0

Ijjas rf 4 2 2 1 Mathews p 0 0 0 0

Campbell 3b 0 0 0 0 Harris p 0 0 0 0

Beach p 0 0 0 0

Totals 29 9 11 8 Totals 26 2 5 2

CC Catholic 110 200 5 - 9 11 0

Trinity Prep 002 000 0 - 2 5 1

E - Reaves. DP - Trinity Prep 1. LOB - CC Catholic 8, Trinity Prep 3. 3B - Dowdell. SB - Morelli, Olenek, Mayer.

CC Catholic IP H R ER BB SO

Acosta W 8-3 7 5 2 2 4 5

Trinity Prep IP H R ER BB SO

Mathews L 6-4 3M 8 4 4 3 1

Harris 2M 3 5 4 2 1

Beach M 0 0 0 1 0

HBP - by Harris (McLemore) 2. T - 2:04. A -854.