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Unlikely heroes lift TC

Tampa Catholic wins its ninth state baseball title with 5-3 victory over Orlando Bishop Moore.

By SCOTT PURKS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2001


Tampa Catholic wins its ninth state baseball title with 5-3 victory over Orlando Bishop Moore.

TAMPA -- Tampa Catholic's Josh Shirk picked up a grounder and threw to first baseman Chad Leon around 6 p.m. Thursday at Legends Field, putting to rest one of the most remarkable runs in state high school playoff history.

Yes, after several near-death experiences the past nine days, Tampa Catholic won the Class 3A baseball title 5-3 over Orlando Bishop Moore, giving the Crusaders their ninth state crown. You want story lines?

Take your pick.

TC's starter was Robert Valiente, a senior outfielder who hadn't pitched since March 24 because of a strained muscle in his throwing arm.

Yet he earned the complete-game victory, scattering seven hits and giving up no earned runs.

"We had no choice but to go with Robert," said TC coach Chuck Yingling, who was forced to use his No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers in Wednesday's semifinal. "We were hoping we could get five innings out of Robert, but he came through with all seven.

"Man, he really came through."

Valiente said, "I felt good in the bullpen when I was warming up, which surprised me a little. But I really wanted to pitch. I wanted to be out there with a chance to win the championship.

"I knew it would be my last time pitching, so I wanted to go out with a bang."

He admitted being a little scared at times, but gained confidence from his teammates, who kept coming up with defensive gems (such as Wes Hiller's diving grab down the leftfield line in the sixth inning), and key hits (such as James O'Donoghue's go-ahead single in the bottom of the sixth).

O'Donoghue, like Valiente, burst into the limelight for the final.

The junior had only 24 at-bats coming into the game, but with Valiente on the mound, Yingling said, "he had all the confidence in the world," as he penciled O'Donoghue's name into the starting lineup.

Afterward, O'Donoghue was grinning so wide he could barely find words.

"I was just waiting for my chance," O'Donoghue said.

"I think I made the most of it."

Then there was outfielder Dennard Span (2-for-4 with three RBI), second baseman Tony Moscato (2-for-4 with two runs scored) and designated hitter Brian Nowotny (1-for-3 with an RBI), and ...

"It was the same story that it's been all year with this team," Yingling said.

"Different guys step up, everybody contributes and good things happen.

"They always feel like they can win no matter what the situation is."

Indeed. The Crusaders scored a run in the seventh inning against Avon Park in the region final to keep alive a game that finished 5-4 in the 12th inning. Avon Park ended up leaving 18 runners on base.

In Wednesday's semifinal, TC came back from a 7-2 deficit in the seventh inning to beat Marianna 8-7, a game Bishop Moore's players watched.

"They showed they were tough," Bishop Moore catcher Craig Dini said.

"It's not like they were a powerhouse, but they were good and scrappy. Sometimes those are the teams that beat you.

"Hey, they found a way to win, and that's all you can say."

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