FORTT MYERS — It was a simple turn of luck.
Over and over again, Bloomingdale High baseball players worked to create chances in the postseason and it turned in their favor as the Bulls made comeback after comeback in three region tournament wins before pulling out an extra-inning victory in the state semifinal Friday.
In Saturday’s Class 8A state final against Homestead South Dade, the Bulls found themselves down two runs in the sixth inning, seemingly poised for another comeback.
After a pair of walks, the tying run was at first base and Austin James was at the plate. James sent a ball to deep short and tore down the base path, removing any chance of getting him out.
Then the turn, a spot of bad luck as Conrado Skepple rounded third base a bit too far and Buccaneers shortstop Jori Rodriguez made a heady throw to third for the final out to end the threat.
An inning later, the Bulls’ dream season ended with a 3-1 loss to South Dade.
“I felt like if we were going to have a chance, it was going to be right there,” Bulls coach Kris Wilken said. “It was 100 percent not Skepple’s fault, really wasn’t anyone’s fault. We’ve caught some really good luck this postseason and that was a circumstance where it was just bad luck.”
Bloomingdale (21-10) got started a little faster than in Friday’s semifinal as Doug Sandberg singled to start the game. The speedy junior then drew a throw to first that skipped away from the Buccaneers’ first baseman, moving him to second. Danny Lorenzo singled Sandberg to third before he scored on a Logan Crouse ground ball. The Bulls weren’t able to scratch anything else across in the top of the first, despite three Bucs’ errors.
“I thought from the first hit, when Doug got a hit, that would be it,” senior catcher Jamie Calloway said. “I thought that this was ours and we’d catch fire from there.”
From there, however, South Dade (23-7) junior Jose Gorordo settled in, facing the minimum over the next four innings. The Buccaneers then turned to ace and Florida International signee Erik Manoah, who earned the save.
The Bulls got a solid start from junior Daylon Owens, who worked into the fifth inning. South Dade got to the righty in the second as Alek Manoah singled in a run to tie the game, but Owens settled down and worked a pair of scoreless innings.
The Bucs took control in the fifth as a run scored on a wild pitch and another on a Gabriel Cruz single, chasing Owens from the game. The inning and threat of two more runs ended when Calloway made a nice grab of a foul ball before tumbling into the South Dade dugout.
Tommy McLaughlin, who last worked in late April, worked a scoreless sixth for the Bulls.
Bloomingdale had a runner reach with a one-out walk in the final inning but the comeback was absent at the end.
“We were confident we’d get that big hit when we needed it,” Sandberg said. “We’ve been doing it game after game. I just think in the final the nerves finally got to us.”
Bloomingdale will return 24 players and Wilken said he is encouraged that this team has been so successful — reaching the program’s first state title game — while building for the future.
“The biggest lesson I learned, and I hope (my team) has learned as well, is the value of team chemistry,” Wilken said.
“We’ve had some extremely talented teams — more talented than this one,” he added. “But you can’t replace team. I’ll take this team over any talented team I’ve ever had, no doubt, just because of their guts and chemistry.”