The Cougars' 2-1 victory earns them a fourth meeting with archrival Seminole.
By JOHN SCHWARB
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2001
SARASOTA -- Appropriately, there was a fire engine in the parking lot Friday at Sarasota High.
Countryside pitcher Matt DiBlasi repeatedly extinguished several of Sarasota's small flares, then turned the ball over to an unlikely fireman to hold on for a 2-1 win to advance to the Class 5A, Region 3 final.
Next up for the Cougars (19-11) will be archrival Seminole, which won 8-3 at Punta Gorda Charlotte and will try to beat Countryside for a fourth time this season Tuesday. "We're pretty much going to say, "Hey, guys, we're back,"' Countryside coach Steve Sharts said.
The Cougars are alive and well thanks to 61/3 innings from DiBlasi, two outs of relief from Mike White and a little luck in the sixth inning.
With the score tied 1-1, White drew a walk from Sarasota starter Justin Gee. Bobby Bixler entered the game to run and took off on a one-strike delivery to Chris Gajan, who lined the pitch to right-centerfield. Bixler hesitated rounding second, but kept going and got the green light to try for home. A relay to the Sarasota catcher appeared well in time to nail Bixler, but Thomas Berkery failed to snag the ball and Bixler scored what turned out to be the winning run.
"He's got good speed and he made it, it's just fortunate," Sharts said. "That's the way we've been playing all year."
DiBlasi gave up a run in the first on a bases-loaded groundout by Berkery, then shut the door on three other scoring opportunities. In the second, third and fourth innings, Sarasota (15-16) put runners in scoring position, but failed to score.
In the seventh, DiBlasi issued his fourth walk, to leadoff pinch-hitter Brad Bielen. The next batter sacrificed, and Sharts opted to bring in White.
White let one pitch get away, allowing Bielen to take third, but got a grounder to third and a flyout to right to end the game and pick up his second save of the season.
"(Sharts) said if I struggled he was going to bring in Mike or (Steve) Boychuk," DiBlasi said. "I was all for it. Mike's our ace and our pitching leader. He did the job when he came in."
Countryside will likely turn to White again Tuesday in the school's first regional final.
"The difference is, we're playing with a lot of confidence right now," Sharts said. "We have nothing to lose and everything to gain."