FORT MYERS — Bloomingdale junior Conrado Skepple said there was no room for nerves as he stepped to the plate in the eighth inning of a scoreless Class 8A state semifinal against Park Vista. The situation, he said is something that has happened so often for the Bulls this season, that he was ready for his opportunity.
With a runner on second, Skepple didn't squander his shot, instead roping a ball to left field and out of reach of the Park Vista outfielder and sending the deciding run home and Bloomingdale to its first state final in school history with a 1-0 win. The junior leads the Bulls in hitting and said after failing to reach base in his three previous at-bats he felt his number was due.
“I definitely wasn't nervous, I was confident up there,” Skepple said. “I really haven't had four at-bats and not gotten a hit. I trusted myself and confidence is key, so I really felt like I was going to come through with a hit.”
The game was what was expected as Bloomingdale ace, junior Logan Crouse squared off against undefeated Florida Atlantic signee Austin Smith. The two pitchers worked around early hits as both teams advanced a runner to third in the first inning before settling in for the long outing. Both bent, but neither pitcher broke as Bloomingdale stranded three runners in scoring position and the Cobras left five threatening runners on in the game.
“I think today No. 1 with Austin Smith and Logan on the mound, if both coaches didn't know it was going to be this kind of game, then they're crazy,” Bulls coach Kris Wilken said. “It just so happened when we needed that hit late in the game we got it.”
Both Crouse and Smith had solid defense behind them with Bulls shortstop Austin James made a number of good plays to support his pitcher. Crouse worked fast and went after players quickly, something he said was his plan from the start.
“We knew they had a lot of guys who could hit and getting that first pitch strike is big against a team that can hit,” Crouse said. “Both my fastball and slider was working.”
The Bulls made the most of Smith's first miscue when he finally yielded his first walk of the game. The Bulls turned to pinch hitter Daylon Owens, who worked the base on balls before he was replaced by the original starter Nate Chevalier as a pinch runner. Chevalier stole second, before Skepple burned the Park Vista left fielder and propelled Bloomingdale (21-6) into the state final.
Crouse went the distance allowing six hits striking out four to improve to 9-2 on the year, while Smith took the loss allowing one run on seven hits, while striking out a pair. The Bulls had a pair of hits each from Cody Wilson and Danny Lorenzo, but failed to scratch across a run in regulation.
For Bloomingdale, a team that rallied to win three-straight region games after finishing as the district runner-up, the run to the final has been something of an unexpected one, but also one the players have come to believe in. Skepple said after the win Friday, his team's road to the final is something he thought was a possibility.
“I would say this was crazy,” Skepple said. “But I'd say we all thought it was believable.”
Crouse said a chance to win a state title as the Bulls will face South Dade, winners 1-0 over Deland in the other semifinal, Saturday at 4 p.m. is something he's dreamed about since his days on the Little League fields.
“This has been a dream since I was a little kid,” Crouse said. “Since Little League, you always say, 'a state championship, a chance to represent your town, your city'.”
“You'd always say, 'yeah, that would be awesome.' ”