It was a series of self-inflicted wounds and missed opportunities that kept Barron Collier from reaching the Class 6A championship game on Wednesday.
Two runs scored on a throwing error, a wild pitch scored another, and multiple baserunners stranded in scoring position were too much for the Cougars to overcome, losing 8-2 to Merritt Island in the Class 6A semifinal at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
Nick Denove pitched five innings, gave up five runs, three earned, on four hits and three walks while striking out five. But it took him 100 pitches to get there. And while Johnny Long’s single to center started the afternoon off on the right foot for the Cougars, it would be Merritt Island who took over.
An error at second allowed the Mustangs to take the lead, 2-1 in the second inning, then they added two more in the first. One came by a perfectly placed bunt from RJ Diaz, followed by Ryan Taylor scooting home via a wild pitch to make it 4-1 Merritt Island.
“We preached all week we had to play mistake-free baseball,” Barron Collier coach Charlie Maurer said. “You can’t kick balls like we did early and give them opportunities. We had guys in scoring position and just couldn’t get a break, couldn’t finish it off. You have to capitalize on every mistake they made, they didn’t make any mistakes. We did.”
Barron clawed back one of those runs in the fourth inning, when Connor Phelan smoked a double down the right field line, scoring Matt Lord.
But there were multiple missed opportunities. They had gotten to future Florida Gator Mason Denaburg at times. The right-hander for Merritt Island gave up five hits and walked three in six innings. They had their chances, and felt they could get after him.
“We’ve been watching countless videos on him and he was throwing upper-90s. But this morning we were watching and thought, ‘this isn’t upper-90s, this isn’t as hard as we were expecting,” Long said. “I really don’t think today he had his best stuff.”
The Cougars left a pair of runners stranded in scoring position in the second, after back to back strikeouts with runners on second and third by Denove and Marcus O’Malley. Denove thought he had walked the bases loaded on a full count, and was three steps to first before the called strike.
“It was a really late call,” Denove said. “I was all the way out of the batters box.”
There were runners on first and second stranded with one out in the bottom of the sixth again by consecutive strikeouts with the Cougars down 5-2.
“It’s a part of the game, you know. Calls for you, calls against you that goes both ways,” Maurer said. “My frustration was because you’re facing a potential first round draft pick and you have him on the ropes, you can’t let him off easy.”
It was the seventh inning where the Merritt Island finally broke the Cougars, though, scoring on three consecutive at-bats, ending any hope of a comeback.
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