Posted: 11:33 pm Tuesday, May 26th, 2009
By Jason Lieser
South Fork captured its first team championship in any sport with a 13-3 win against Tallahassee-Chiles in the Class 5A state baseball final at Tradition Field.
Nick Zaharion slugged a two-run single to the center field fence to end the game in five innings.
The route over Chiles seems to have atoned for last season’s 10-inning loss to Dunedin in the state championship.
“Last year we knocked on the door,” South Fork coach Mike Harper said. “This year we kicked the door down.”
The Bulldogs won it before an announced crowd of 2,090, which was overwhelmingly decked in South Fork red and white.
Senior Ryan Breen, who caught all 10 innings of that devastating defeat last season, scored first and watched Mike Beck sprint in with the game-ending run. Those two and Zaharion were at the bottom of South Fork’s dog pile behind the plate.
The teams combined for eight runs in a bizarre and rainy first inning.
Chiles (28-5) took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first, but the Timberwolves’ pitching was in disarray in the bottom of the inning.
Before I get into the details, here is the quote from Chiles coach Greg Jones that might be the funniest one I’ve heard all year:
“We won 3-0 for a half an inning and they won 13-0 for four and a half.”
Anyway, Jones had an unusual pitching strategy for Tuesday’s game. Fearing he would end up using his weaker pitchers late in a close game, Jones decided to throw them at the beginning of the game.
That’s what he said. I’m not making it up.
Chiles starter Dillon Dorn, who pitched fewer than 10 innings this year, lasted just four batters — his stat line included two walks, a hit by pitch and a balk — before Bobby Parker came on in relief. Parker had been warming up in the right field bullpen before the game even started and throughout the first inning.
Brandon Bednar put South Fork (29-3) on the board with a bases-loaded line drive up the middle that Dorn tipped with his glove. Two batters later, Bulldogs second baseman Nick Guillotte ripped a three-run double to give South Fork a 4-3 lead.
“Nobody in our dugout doubted we would come back after that first inning,” Harper said. “Nobody.”
Blake Nehls, who had the game-winning hit in Monday’s semifinal, brought Guillotte home with a sacrifice fly. Nehls, the team’s No. 7 batter, hit 3 for 5 with four RBIs in the Bulldogs’ two wins this week.
If there was a state finals MVP award, it would be hard to give to anyone but Nehls.
Bulldogs starter Kyle Hunter, meanwhile, regrouped from Chiles’ three-run first inning. Hunter (10-0) allowed just two hits, both singles, after the first and struck out five in five innings.
Hunter’s performance came a day after fellow senior Tyson Young shut down Tampa-Plant for a 5-2 win in the semifinals. The Bulldogs had an eight-day layoff leading up to that game.
South Fork tacked on four more runs in the third inning, highlighted by Nehls’ run-scoring triple, and another two in the fourth. Brandon Bednar led off the fourth with a single and scored on Robert Bednar’s triple to the right field wall.
The Bulldogs finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the area and continued their dominance in the playoffs. South Fork won its six playoff games by a combined score of 56-5.
The last area team to win a state title in baseball was Summit Christian in 2004.