Baseball is a sport best defined by a quote from the legendary Yogi Berra: “90% of the game is mental, the other half is physical.” Essentially, players can be cream of the crop prospects, but one mistake here, their judgment gets clouded there, and a domino effect takes place with their teammates.
For Al Sorrentino and the Central Bears, while that did happen early against the visiting Port Orange-Atlantic Sharks (yes, there’s another one), it’s what happened afterwards that set the tone.
Seeing his squad fall behind early despite incredible pitching from starter Rashaad Boyce, Sorrentino rallied his boys, who then proceeded to erase a 4-0 deficit en route to a 9-5 victory to advance to Saturday’s regional semifinal.
“Great the way these young men battled tonight,” said Central coach Al Sorrentino. “We were down early, I brought them together and said, ‘All year, we’ve been down before but you guys stuck together and worked hard, and got a district championship out of it, so let’s do the same thing tonight.’”
Early in the contest, Sharks catcher Christian Pregent was the only individual to make solid contact off Boyce, taking the ball deep off the outfield fence for a double. A single by third baseman Sebastian Spada would score him, giving Atlantic an early 1-0 lead. Central tried to fight back, with their best chance coming in the second when they advanced Boyce into scoring position. However, a bad bunt attempt led to him being thrown out in a 1-6 double play, ending that chance.
The third inning, however, is when the Yogi Berra quote came into play. Central consistently couldn’t field hard ground balls, accounting for three errors and allowing Atlantic to build their lead. Atlantic was also aided by some stolen bases, most notably by sophomore second baseman Dalton Hurst, who attempted to utilize Jackie Robinson-esque movements to bait Boyce into a botched pickoff or balk. Fortuitously, he focused on what was really important: getting the next batter out.
“Rashaad got hyped up and lost his focus, overthrew a couple of pitches, but obviously he brought it back together and pitched stupendously through the final three innings” said Sorrentino. “He’s our leader for sure”
From there, Central began clawing their way back into the game. It began in the fourth, when Central’s first three batters loaded the bases and scored on a bases-clearing triple by third baseman Locke Weissman. He would later tie the game on a single by right fielder Jimmy Russell.
In the fifth inning, Atlantic would regain the lead because of three hit batters, two of which came back-to-back. The first hit batter, sophomore right fielder Alex Turner, would score on an impressive and aggressive squeeze bunt attempt by Spada, even though he was halfway up the base path to where it would’ve been the wrong decision to go after him instead of getting the batter out.
In the bottom of the fifth, after the first batter struck out swinging, Central got their next two batters on base via walks, and they would score on a single by first baseman Justin Gay, giving the Bears a lead they would not relinquish. Boyce and Weissman would also get on base and score, leading to the final margin of victory.
From there, Boyce pitched through the sixth inning, and in the seventh, Rashaad was relieved for sophomore catcher Ryan Ebberup. And even though Atlantic loaded the bases, their final batter struck out on three pitches, sealing the win for the Bears.
With the Springstead Eagles losing 4-1 to the North Marion Colts Wednesday, Central now is the last remaining high school baseball team in the area, and their next game might be their toughest matchup to date. Saturday night, the squad travels to Orlando to face the Bishop Moore Hornets in the regional semifinals. Should they win and advance to the region finals, FHSAA bracketing procedures appear to state that Central would host the survivor of the Newberry/The Villages-Charter Wednesday night from the Bear Den by virtue of being the school on the bottom line of the bracket.
2019 FHSAA CLASS 5A REGION II SEMIFINAL MATCHUP
5A-7 CHAMPION CENTRAL BEARS @ 5A-8 CHAMPION BISHOP MOORE HORNETS, 7PM ON MAY 18
WINNER ADVANCES TO REGION II FINAL ON MAY 22 AGAINST SURVIVOR OF 5A-5 CHAMPION NEWBERRY PANTHERS @ 5A-6 CHAMPION THE VILLAGES-CHARTER BUFFALO