By PATRICK CASEY
Caleb McCormick makes things happen for Freeport athletics. The junior football and baseball player tends to come up with the big play at the right time and proved it on Friday night in a second round baseball playoff game at Panama City Bozeman. His bases-loaded double on an 0-2 pitch in the top of the fifth inning rallied the Bulldogs from a 3-2 deficit to a 5-3 lead that the Bulldogs would never relinquish on the way to an 8-4 win over the Bucks.
“I don’t know if he likes baseball as much as he just likes being around his teammates,” Freeport coach Shaun Arntz said after the victory. “He had been struggling at the plate some of late but tonight he had a double and a triple that made the difference on offense.”
Arntz’s comments were not an understatement as McCormick drove in five runs and scored one himself as the throw by the Bucks to third base on his triple went into the dugout turning his seventh inning smash into a de facto inside-the-park home run.
Senior Michael Graziani recorded the final four outs of the game as he struck out three batters and got a groundout back to the mound around a lone run scored by the Bucks in their final at-bat to record a save.
Freeport plated a run in the top of the first inning as Brandon Head doubled in Dakota Davis for a 1-0 advantage.
That margin held up until the bottom of the third inning when Bozeman got singles from A.J. Van Slyke and Logan Strausbaugh to put runners on with one out for Ryan Hardy to knock in the first run of the game for the Bucks with another single. An error loaded the bases but Freeport starter Collin Myrick got a grounder to third baseman Brandon Head for a force play at home to keep the game tied. That lasted until the next batter, Brady Oates, delivered a two-run single for a 3-1 lead.
Freeport scratched back with a run in the top of the fourth inning as Myrick singled, moved to second when McCormick was hit by a pitch and scored on a fielding error by the second baseman to cut the deficit to 3-2. The Bulldogs stranded two runners as Ryan Hardy struck out the next two batters to end the inning. Freeport turned the game in the top of the fifth inning. Michael Graziani led off with a single and moved to second on a walk. Bozeman coach Jeff Patton decided to lift Hardy for lefthander Matt Hall and the move appeared to pay off as Hall struck out Davis and Head for the first two outs in the inning. Caleb McCormick got in an 0-2 hole and fought off the next pitch with a foul ball before smacking Hall’s next offering into the left field corner for a bases-clearing double and a 5-3 lead. Hall coaxed a pop-out from Jake Fannin to end the inning but the damage was done. Junior Collin Myrick returned to the mound with the lead and got the first two outs in the fifth inning before a single and a walk put two runners on for Oates. Myrick got Oates to fly out to deep center to end the inning. Sophomore Garrett Hall singled with one out in the sixth inning and Van Slyke walked after the second out to put a pair of runners on. Freeport coach Shaun Arntz decided to pull Myrick after 98 pitches and handed the ball to Graziani to get the final out and quell the rally. The senior got the job done as he struck out Straughsbaugh on three pitches to move the game into the final inning of play. Freeport hoped to add an insurance run in their final at-bat but got three instead. Matt Hall got in trouble immediately as Head and Myrick singled before McCormick tripled to right-center and scored on a throw that went into the Bozeman dugout.
Leading 8-3, Graziani nailed down the win despite the Bucks pushing across a run for the 8-4 final.
“It’s been an incredible week,” Arntz said after the game as parents celebrated with the Bulldogs on the field. “We get our first playoff win in school history, go on the road and get a road playoff win. Now we get to come home and get ready to host a Region final against Tallahassee North Florida Christian. We’ve played four really grueling games since the district tournament in Jay started. We’ll get a chance to rest up and get ready for Friday….” Read the full story in the May 12, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.