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Seventh-inning rally lifts Crusaders

Tampa Catholic comes back from a 7-2 deficit in its final at-bat to advance to the Class 3A final.

[Times photos: Thomas M. Goethe]
Tampa Catholic's Tony Moscato reacts to the fans' applause after the Crusaders scored six runs in the seventh inning to defeat Marianna 8-7.

By SCOTT PURKS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2001


TAMPA -- They haven't won the state title yet, but for a moment, give Tampa Catholic a roaring, resounding ovation.

Because Wednesday afternoon at Legends Field, the Crusaders did what nobody thought possible in a Class 3A state semifinal.

Last at-bat. Down 7-2. Facing Marianna senior Alan Horne, a projected first-round pick. 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.

photo
Tampa Catholic's DH Brian Nowotny, left, and first baseman Chad Leon embrace after their team's dramatic victory.
When it was over, TC had won 8-7.

Hundreds of green-painted, bushy-wigged fans unleashed screams. TC players stormed the field and piled on each other.

Marianna, and Horne, stood like lampposts with the bulbs burned out.

"To get so close to the finish line and have it taken away from you like that hurts so much," Marianna coach Scott Miller said. "It was like having your heart ripped out."

Miller was asked why he left Horne in after the first few hits. Why not bring in Class 3A state player of the year Jeff Mathis, who had a 0.95 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 66 innings?

"I talked to Horne (after TC's third hit in the seventh), and he seemed fine," Miller said. "I knew his legs were still under him, and his pitch count wasn't that high.

"(Horne) was throwing fine, but (TC) just put the bat on the ball. You have to give them credit. They went up there and got seven hits."

The final one came with one out and the bases loaded.

"When I hit that ball, I almost had a heart attack," Nowotny said of his game-winner. "I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it."

The biggest hit of Nowotny's life?

"Definitely," he said.

And the second biggest?

"That would be the first one (to start the inning)," he said.

Before TC's final at-bat, Yingling brought his team over and reminded them of the Crusaders' four-run comeback in the 1996 state semifinal. That's when Jimmie Giles hit a grand slam to tie it. Three hitters later, Vince Lopez singled in the winning run.

"But that was different because of the big hit (Giles' homer)," Yingling said. "This time, everybody had to hit."

The victory gives Tampa Catholic a chance to win its ninth state title and offered a sweet taste of redemption. Marianna and Horne beat TC in the 1999 semifinal 1-0.

"I don't think (Horne) threw the ball nearly as well as he did in '99," Yingling said. "Before the game, I really thought we were going to hit better than we did in those first six innings."

Heading into the seventh, TC had only three hits but had struck out only four times, well under Horne's normal ratio of 143 strikeouts in 74 innings.

"We knew we could hit him," Tony Moscato said. "He really didn't seem to be throwing that hard."

Moscato, who wanted to redeem himself after striking out three times against Horne in '99 (he went 0-3 with a walk and a strikeout), threw the final 42/3 innings, giving up three unearned runs in the seventh.

But instead of getting down, Yingling said giving up those three runs, "made us mad."

Then the Crusaders came out swinging.

TC's rally

Brian Nowotny singles

Matt Noel pinch-runs for Nowotny

Charles Cleveland singles, Noel to second

Mike Filippone pinch-runs for Cleveland

Marc Centofante doubles, Noel scores, Filippone to third

Marianna 7, Tampa Catholic 3

Tony Moscato walks

Josh Shirk singles, Filippone and Centofante score, Moscato to second

Marianna 7, Tampa Catholic 5

Craig Corrado singles (bunt), Moscato to third, Shirk to second

Denard Span singles, Moscato and Shirk score, Corrado to second

Marianna 7, Tampa Catholic 7

Robert Valient sacrifice bunts, Corrado to third, Span to second

Chad Leon walks (intentionally)

Nowotny singles, Corrado scores

Tampa Catholic 8, Marianna 7

* * *

CLASS 3A: Tampa Catholic (26-5) vs. Orlando Bishop Moore (27-7), 4

PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS: TC -- Undecided between junior right-hander Tony Moscato and freshman right-hander Charles Cleveland. Bishop Moore -- Mario Lombardo, junior right-hander (7-1, 501/3 innings, 1.80 ERA, 66 strikeouts).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: TC -- Beat Frostproof 5-0, Englewood Lemon Bay 4-2, Avon Park 5-4 and Marianna 8-7. Bishop Moore -- Beat Umatilla 8-0, Keystone Heights 3-0, Eustis 4-0 and Miami Gulliver Prep 11-2.

THE X-FACTORS: TC -- Cleveland went 3-for-3 against Alan Horne, a projected first-round pick, in the semifinal win. Bishop Moore -- Mike Malatesta went 2-for-4 with three runs scored Wednesday after entering the tournament with a .213 average.

THE SKINNY: Bishop Moore beat a team that began the season ranked in the top 10 in the nation and has four players signed to play Division I next season. That would seem to give the Hornets some momentum. Then again, TC staged one of the biggest comebacks in state semifinal history. Whichever team has the least amount of letdown could take home the championship. -- Compiled by Mike Readling.

* * *

CLASS 4A: Daytona Beach Seabreeze (27-5) vs. Tallahassee Godby (30-4), 7

PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS: Seabreeze -- Steven Will, senior left-hander (7-0, 48 innings, 1.89 ERA, 50 strikeouts). Godby -- Justin Poole, senior right-hander (9-2, 77 innings, 1.82 ERA, 47 strikeouts).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Seabreeze -- Beat Bartow 8-7, Gainesville Eastside 10-0, Palatka 8-1 and Cape Coral 6-4. Godby -- Beat Pensacola Pine Forest 7-1, Fernandina Beach 5-4, Live Oak Suwannee 3-1 and Clearwater 5-2.

THE X-FACTORS: Seabreeze -- Kyle Conroy went 2-for-3 with a double and two runs in the semifinal. He entered the tournament with a .306 average and could provide a spark. Godby -- Alex Fonseca entered the tournament hitting .489 with a team-high 10 doubles. He should thrive in the wide-open outfield at Legends Field.

THE SKINNY: Seabreeze is on a nine-game winning streak and has outscored its opponents 74-30 during that span. The Sandcrabs entered the tournament batting .364. Their ability to hit will be key against Godby's pitching staff, which is fairly deep. If Poole gets in trouble, the Cougars can fall back on Jared Parramore, Mark Mildenberger and Kyle Butler.

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