A Heartbreaking Loss
LAKELAND – The piecemeal pitching plan of St. Johns River State College was three outs from coming together.
But Cole Warken kept fighting off 0-2 pitches.
He won that battle from SJR State closer Tyler Carr, chopping a double into left. Polk State College went on to tie the game, then capitalized on a two-base throwing error for the decisive run in the 10th inning of a 4-3 contest on the second day of the NJCAA Region 8/FCSAA tournament on a warm Monday at Henley Field.
Planned in advance to keep arms fresh for the grind of what could be a weeklong tournament, St. Johns used four pitchers to get to the ninth, allowing two runs on four hits. The Vikings were poised to continue in the winners bracket when Cole Perry rolled a single past first base to lead off the ninth, took second on Collin Morrill’s groundout and scored on a close play following Matthew Rhodes’ third hit of the day, a single to left center.
With SJR State up 3-2, on came Carr (9-2), the school’s career saves leader, in the bottom of the ninth. Warken battled his way for a double, took third on a wild pitch and with the infield up, Skylar Frey grounded up the middle and shortstop Nick Owens had no choice but to settle for the out at first. Warken scored and it was 3-3.
Sidearm reliever Justin Tworek (6-1) worked a 1-2-3 10th for Polk and in the bottom half, leadoff man Joe Strzelecki grounded sharply to third. Alexander fired high to Perry first, Strzelecki sped to third and scored the winning run when Carr’s 1-2 delivery skipped away from catcher Jimbo Reemsnyder.
The defeat dropped the Vikings (41-13) into a 10 a.m. losers bracket contest today with Northwest Florida State College, which eliminated Broward, 7-5, in the losers bracket on Monday. Polk improved to 36-15.
“Just like last year, it’s a long way (to go),” said St. Johns coach Ross Jones, whose 2015 club rebounded from a first-day loss to reach the state semifinals. “We knew the day was going to be tough. We played the Suncoast Conference champions, played them tooth and nail.”
He wasn’t about to blame two of his most reliable performers, Carr and Alexander.
“High chopper to lead off the ninth (leading to the tying run). Hunter made a great play (in the 10th), a hustle play. He took his shot (at first). It happens,” Jones said.
It was a scoreless game until the fifth behind SJR State starter Daniel Williams and lefty reliever Andrew Vaccacio. Vaccacio hit Warken with one out and with two down, reliever Pearson McMahan walked Frey. Cody Burgess blistered a two-run double down the line in right and the Eagles led 2-0.
“You look back – in the fifth inning, a walk and an HBP scored,” Jones said. “That’s all they got until the ninth. Other than that, we pitched well.”
St. Johns pulled even in the sixth. No. 9 batter Harlan Harris beat out an infield hit with one out and the Vikings came up with three straight two-out hits – Owens, Alexander and Alec Dowell, whose single to right scored pinch-runner Jordan Kennedy and Owens.
It was 2-2 and that’s where it stood until the ninth.
The fourth and most effective of the Vikings’ five pitchers, lefthander Ryan Ross pitched two and a third, striking out three and surviving a leadoff double in the seventh. He was in line for the win until the ninth.
SJR State outhit Polk 10-6. Rhodes was 3-for-4, Dowell 2-for-4.