DUNEDIN — After losing a four-run lead thanks to a bad sixth inning, it would have been easy for Clearwater Central Catholic to fold against Dunedin in the final of the 49th annual Dunedin Spring Tournament. But quality relief pitching from Garrett Schmid and a clutch ninth-inning hit from Dean Mercer allowed the Marauders to defeat the Falcons 5-4.
CCC (14-7) won its first Dunedin Tournament since 2014, when it was co-champions with Osceola in a rain-shortened tournament. This is the second time this season the Marauders defeated Dunedin. The Falcons (15-8) were trying to win their second straight tournament championship.
"This is a great win for us," said CCC senior catcher Luca Tresh, who was named the tournament's most valuable player. "We really cared about this tournament. We have districts coming up soon and it gives us some confidence."
Tresh played a part in the Marauders' two-run first inning. Blake Wright and Mercer led off the first with singles off Dunedin starter Derek Gray. Tresh then singled home Wright to make it 1-0. With two outs, Chris Sabatino walked with the bases loaded to plate the second run.
The Marauders tacked on two more runs in the top of the sixth. Michael Reagan doubled to start the inning. Jack Burke then singled to put runners on the corner. An infield ground-out by Sabatino allowed on run to score. Burke scored from third with one out when Nick DiMiceli was thrown out at second trying to steal.
In the bottom of the sixth, Dunedin finally got to CCC starter Reagan. The Falcons loaded the bases with no outs on two hits and a walk. Ben Garcia walked with no outs to make it 4-1. Then Tristan Morton doubled to clear the bases and make it 4-4. He was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple and Reagan was able to get the final two outs.
Both teams failed to score until the ninth inning. Noah Stephens was hit by a pitch from Josh Collett. Stephens got to second on a sacrifice bunt, which brought up Mercer. He laced a single to left that scored Stephens with what turned out to be the winning run.
"I just laid off the pitches that weren't there and on the 3-1 count got the fastball down the middle," Mercer said. "I just let it rip. Right off the bat I knew we were going to be the 2018 Dunedin Tournament champs."
Of course, CCC still had to get the final three outs. Schmid did get three straight batters to end the game and set off a celebration.
"This team has a chance," CCC coach Todd Vaughan said. "We've got to do things right, and of course we've got a big dog to try to knock off (Calvary Christian). But we'll see. You never know."