FORT MYERS — One swing.
That's all it took for Carrollwood Day's historic season to come to an end.
With two outs and two runners on in the third inning of the Class 3A state semifinal against Tallahassee North Florida Christian, Patriots starter Gabe Partridge faced Eagles' cleanup hitter Carson Neal. Partridge was in command in the first two innings and already had four strikeouts.
Then came what seemed like an innocent pitch, a changeup low in the strike zone. Neal launched it high to leftfield. The ball continued to carry as Zach Watts gave chase. Watts ran out of room and the ball barely cleared the fence and landed on the grass berm for a three-run homer.
Staked to a three run lead, the Eagles were able to withstand a fourth-inning rally to defeat the Patriots 3-2.
"What can I say; one swing, that's all they got," first-year Patriots head coach Ken Akins said. "That was three runs. We had our opportunities and put two on the board after that, but we just couldn't get a two-out hit after that."
Aside from the third inning, Partridge did all he could to keep his team in the game. He pitched six innings and struck out 10. He gave up five hits, three of which came in the third inning. In its past 13 wins, North Florida Christian has scored at least 10 runs. The Eagles were held in check by Partridge, who is committed to St. Petersburg College.
"Three of the last four games we've faced Division I arms and he's better than all the guys we faced," Eagles coach Mike Posey said. "He moves the ball around, he's very smart and has a plan."
The plan worked except for the third inning.
Trent Phillips started the Eagles' two-out rally with a single. J.D. Tease followed with a single that put runners on the corner. That brought up Neal, who golfed the ball just over the 330 fence.
"I threw a good pitch to him, a low changeup," Partridge said. "I thought Zach had a chance to catch it. It was just a good swing, a good piece of hitting."
Neal didn't even think it would be a hit.
"Originally I thought it was just a pop fly," he said. "I think the wind might have taken it, but I did hit it pretty well."
The Patriots (24-4) came up with a two-out rally of their own in the fourth inning. Watts walked and Andre Hevesy followed with a sharp single to right. The throw to get Watts at third sailed high and Watts was able jog home for the first run. Dillon Baker then singled home Hevesy, but the inning ended when pinch runner Kade LeFort was thrown out at third.
LeFort ran for Kyle Benedict, who was hit in the head by a Brandon Walker pitch. Akins said Benedict had a concussion and was unable to return to the game.
"Battling back and finding a way is what we've done all season long," Akins said. "We did it in the district tournament. It's something these guys have in them. When we're down 3-0 the first thing that comes to mind is that we're all right. We can come back. Heads were up across the board."
Carrollwood Day put runners on first and second with two outs in the fifth inning but was unable to get the tying run. In the seventh, Baker led off with a single but could only get to second.
North Florida Christian (25-3) put a runner on second with one out in the sixth, but Partridge was able to get out of the jam.
This is the first season the Patriots have ever won a district championship and advanced to the state tournament. Despite the loss, players feel they have set the bar for future teams.
"We made history," senior rightfielder Frank Furey said. "We've paved the road for all of the other (baseball) teams at CDS. We've set the example for how it's done. We just came up a little short."