By PATRICK CASEY
On a blustery day in Fort Myers, the South Walton baseball team had a rough outing on defense to the tune of six errors on the large field at Hammond Stadium as Madison County rallied from deficits twice before posting a 4-3 win to advance to the Class A state championship game.
With the contest tied at 3-all and the Cowboys at the plate with a chance to win the game in the bottom of the seventh inning, disaster struck for the Walton County squad. Junior catcher Dustin Bass drove a ball between left and center field that got caught up in the jet stream-like wind as outfielders Kyle Vogler and Tyler Holland pursued the ball to try and make the catch. Vogler and Holland’s arms collided as Holland was about to make the grab and the two hit the turf as the baseball bounded away toward the outfield wall. Bass reached third on the miscue and was replaced by pinch runner Tre Adams.
Sophomore Dilan Lawson then guided a single to right field a few seconds later to send Adams into a head-first slide to win the game and propel the Cowboys to a showdown with top-ranked Trenton for the Class A title.
Neither team was particularly fantastic in the field as the two squads combined for nine errors in seven innings of play with a significant wind working to propel rain into Fort Myers from the Gulf of Mexico later in the day. The Seahawks hit the field a little earlier than expected as Trenton crushed Sneads 10-0 in the first game of the day in just six innings, leading to an earlier start (12:40 p.m. instead of 1 p.m. in the Eastern Time Zone) for a contest that may have had 125 fans in attendance.
The game was scoreless after the first two innings but South Walton threatened to build a significant lead in the top of the third. Holland and Austin Garofalo recorded singles with Adam Richards reaching on a fielder’s choice at third that failed to get Holland on a dropped throw to load the bases with no one out. Chase Miles struck out but Harris Barton drew a walk to force in a run. However, Aiden Keenan struck out and Hunter Crawley flied out to leave the bases loaded with South Walton stranding five runners through the first three innings.
A throwing error by Garofalo at shortstop on a play at first base allowed Drew Herring to reach base to start the bottom of the third. Herring moved to second when Richards attempt at a pick-off at first base bounded away from the bag for the second error of the frame. A passed ball then sent Herring to third. Senior Kris Allen’s ground out to Garofalo plated Herring to tie the game with Richards then getting Jaebion Mitchell via a strikeout and Lawson on a grounder to third.
South Walton came back with two runs in the top of the fourth inning after two were out. The Seahawks got back to the top of the order with Garofalo hitting a double to drive in Holland. Garofalo moved to third base on a wild pitch and scored moments later on another wild pitch by Mitchell, who was then relieved on the mound by junior Dylan Bass, who had not pitched in two months due to an injury.
Bass got the final out on a fly ball but the Seahawks held a 3-1 lead.
Madison County came right back and, again, errors helped the Cowboys with their rally. Mitchell doubled to start the inning and moved to third when Richards attempted pick-off at second base went into center field. Drew Herring singled Mitchell in with a Richards error on a bunt attempt loading the bases. Allen then tied the game with a sacrifice fly to center before a grounder to Garofalo got Richards out of a bases-loaded jam to leave the game tied at 3-all.
Bass shut down South Walton the rest of the game, leading to the bottom of the seventh and the aforementioned series of events that got the Cowboys the victory.
Richards went the distance for South Walton and threw only 80 pitches in six-plus innings of work, allowing six hits and two walks while striking out four.
The loss saw South Walton finish the year 23-7 overall with a Region 2 title and a trip to the Final Four, just the second in Walton County high school baseball history and the first for the Seahawks.
Garofalo wrapped up the season with 15 home runs and a .490 batting average that will serve him well at Marion Military Institute next season as he leaves South Walton High School as one of the top baseball and football players in the school’s history.
The contest marked the final game for Garofalo as well as fellow seniors Tyler Holland, Adam Richards, Hunter Crawely, Baze Clark and Paul Stoppert.
Team Notes: Trenton beat Madison County on May 25 by a score of 3-2 to win their second state championship in the sport. Trenton finished 27-1 with Madison County going 19-13. Nick Borthwick wrapped up his seventh season as head coach and holds a record of 111-76 in that time. 23 wins was the most varsity wins by South Walton baseball in the program’s history as was the team’s 76.67% winning percentage. The varsity squad has had only one losing season under Borthwick (9-16 in 2015). The squad also had an 8-game winning streak that is the longest in the sport in school history.