Mariner captures fourth straight district title
Thursday night at Mariner High School, Triton Anthony Pimentel stepped up to the plate in a scenario every baseball player dreams of being in — bottom of the seventh, two outs, bases loaded, tie game, with a chance to walk it off for a championship.
The freshman shortstop’s dreams became reality when he ripped a single up the middle to score the winning run, propelling Mariner (15-12) to its fourth consecutive district title with a 6-5 win over Lemon Bay for the 4A-12 crown.
Mariner climbed out of a four-run deficit after three trips to the plate for the Manta Rays, scoring a run in each of the next five innings.
“They came out firing. They squared some balls up and put three, four on us real quick, and we told our guys just to find a way to put a goose egg up and keep grinding, and that’s what they’ve been doing all year long,” said Mariner head coach Tom Woodley.
The Manta Rays (18-7) got off to a quick start, plating three runs in the top of the first, all with two outs.
Mariner starter Sam Duvall settled in after the first and tossed 3 2/3 innings allowing five hits, four runs (three earned), and striking out two.
A Pimentel (2-for-5, 2 RBI) double in the third brought home Drew Gifford, who contributed an RBI single in the fourth, cutting the Lemon Bay lead to two. Duvall (1-for-2, two walks) would bring home Dom Cotoni on a single in the fifth as Mariner continued to chip away.
It’s been the tale of the tape for the Tritons to battle back all year, and things were no different in this district championship game. They started the year 4-8 before rattling off nine straight wins.
“I don’t know if they focus more when we’re behind, but we talk about not giving up any at bats, fighting every pitch, making the routine plays,” Woodley said.
Billy Wilson, who came on in relief of Duvall, cruised through the first two innings before allowing a double and later RBI single to give the Manta Rays a 6-4 advantage heading into the bottom of the sixth.
Mariner continued to grind and things continued to go their way. Matt Morales would single home Gifford, who led off the inning with a single, and Cotoni produced a productive groundout to short that evened the game at six.
Morales came in to work a scoreless seventh, stranding a runner at second to set the stage for the home half of the seventh.
With one out, Nick Mackey worked a walk and Cole Sandifer came in to pinch run. A Jorin Ohmine single moved Sandifer up and he eventually stole third.
After Gifford was retired to give Mariner two outs, Jeff Mackey hit a gounder to third, and instead of making the throw to first, the third baseman opted to try and tag Sandifer and ended up losing the ball.
Pimentel then stepped up to the plate and delivered the game-winner, and the Tritons bench spilling out onto the field to celebrate.
“We’re happy for our guys,” Woodley said. “We talk about it all the time – our focus this year is to ‘control the controllables’ – that’s attitude, effort and preparation. That’s going to be good for them even after baseball is done.”
Gifford, a senior, made as much of an impact behind the plate as he did at the dish as a hitter, keeping an aggressive baserunning team in Lemon Bay honest.
He threw out runners in both the fifth and sixth innings, preventing a runner from advancing and potentially scoring in a game where every score mattered.
“Having Gifford back there, he kind of neutralized that running threat,” Woodley said. “We prepared for it. All we told our pitchers is just give our catcher a chance. We know he’s good enough to throw anybody out. He was solid tonight and he stepped up.”
Of the win, Gifford said, “It feels amazing. You can’t put it into words.”
He also gave credit to his pitching staff when it came to keeping runners close.
“Our pitchers were working the baserunners. I got a lot of help from my pitchers there to throw those kids out.”
Next, Mariner will host Hardee (17-9) at home on May 6 at 7 p.m. in the opening round of the 4A state tournament.
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