The Fort White baseball team lost 6-2 against Union County in last week’s Class 1A-District 6 semifinals.
But on Tuesday night in Lake Butler with the season on the line, the visiting Indians scored two runs in the ninth inning to beat the top-seeded Tigers, 4-2, in a Class 1A-Region 3 Semifinal.
Fort White (15-6), the No. 4 seed in the region, is one win away from advancing to the Final Four in Fort Myers. The Indians will play at Lafayette (Mayo) on Friday in the Region Final.
The No. 3 seed Hornets advanced with a 4-2 win at No. 2 seed Madison County.
“The kids deserved it,” said Fort White coach Rick Julius. “They competed, they played with class, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Things didn’t look good early for the Indians.
Fort White loaded the bases in the top of the first with one out. However, Union County pitcher Lucas Johns struck out the next two batters to end the threat.
Then, in the bottom of the first inning, Quinten Rawls led off with a double, stole second, and he scored on a two-run single by Ayden Elixson, scoring Jay Cohen who had walked, for a 2-0 lead.
“We had an opportunity in the first inning, and we didn’t capitalize,” Julius said. “We had the bases loaded. When you play against good teams it’s all about momentum.”
Union County, which was ranked No. 2 in the state in Class 1A by MaxPreps, missed its own opportunities.
For four consecutive innings, the Tigers (14-12) failed to drive in a run despite putting a runner in scoring position in the third through sixth innings.
Each time Fort White pitcher Dylan Lovelace, who struck out eight, and Jonathan Fischer, who entered in the sixth inning, were able to get out of the inning without allowing a run.
The Tigers had a runner at third with no outs in the fourth inning, a runner at third with one out in the sixth inning, and a runner at third with one out in the ninth inning.
“That was the difference in the ball game,” said Union County coach Travis Rimes. “It would have never gone extra innings and we wouldn’t have given up those two runs. It just wasn’t our night. The pressure got to us.”
Fort White broke through with two runs in the third inning on a two-run single by Easton Flynn (2-for-4), the No. 6 hitter in the lineup. Flynn also started the rally in the ninth.
After the first out was recorded by Rawls, who relieved Johns in the top of the ninth, Flynn singled to center field.
The next batter, Zander Eyjolfsson, laid down a bunt. However, Rawls threw late to second to put two on with only one out.
Senior Daniel Gonzalez drove in Flynn with a single to center field, but the throw to third went into the dugout for an error, allowing Eyjolfsson to score for a 4-2 lead and sending the 7th-ranked Indians on to the final against the No. 5 Hornets (17-3).
“I’m glad the Hornets made it,” said Julius, who noted that he and Lafayette coach Tim Hanson exchanged several phone calls with each other to wish the other good luck in last night’s games. “They’re a classy team, Coach Hanson has a great team. It’s going to be a great game between two great ball teams with two head coaches that respect one another.”
FHSAA Baseball playoffs
Class 1A Regional Semifinals
Tuesday, May 10
No. 4 Fort White 4, No. 1 Union County (Lake Butler) 2 (9) (Region 3)
No. 4 Chiefland 4, No. 1 Newberry 3 (Region 4)
No. 3 Dixie County (Cross City), 7, No. 2 Fort Meade 0 (Region 4)
Tuesday, May 10
Class 5A – No. 1 Columbia (Lake City) 4, No. 8 St. Augustine 0
Wednesday, May 11
Class 2A – No. 7 Oak Hall School (Gainesville) at No. 2 North Florida Christian (Tallahassee), 4 p.m.
Class 4A – No. 8 Baker County (Glen St. Mary) at No. 1 Suwannee (Live Oak), 7 p.m.
Class 4A – No. 5 Clay (Green Cove Springs) at No. 4 Santa Fe (Alachua), 7 p.m.