Cypress Lake's five-run rally after two were out in the bottom of the seventh inning Friday night snatched victory from the grasp of the Cape Coral Seahawks.
The rally spoiled a solid pitching performance by left-hander Shane McClanahan, who allowed just three hits and struck out eight over six scoreless innings. The Panthers erupted against Cape's bullpen to register a 5-4 victory in the District 5A-13 baseball championship game at Mariner.
"(Shane's) pitch count was up around 100," said Seahawks coach Mike Gorton. "We only called him up from JV about 10 games ago. Anthony Lawrence deemed himself our closer by midseason, so it was a no-brainer in that situation. All he has done for us all year is throw strikes and get batters out."
The Seahawks held a 4-0 lead entering the seventh inning when Gorton called on Lawrence to finish off the Panthers. He said he would not have played the inning any differently in hindsight.
"We played it right," said Gorton. "I've been around baseball enough to know that stuff like that happens. I've seen a hundred games like that, but you know it's not over until its over."
Lawrence retired the first two batters of the inning on a groundout and a fly ball to right. The Seahawks could sense victory was within reach.
Inexplicably, Lawrence walked a batter, surrendered a single to center and hit a batter to load the bases. Corey Gibson, who was hitless, drew a walk to force in the first run. Richie Lacell cleared the bases with a deep drive to the center field fence and tie the game 4-4.
Gorton then called on Regis Easler to bail out the Seahawks, but he promptly walked a batter to extend the rally for the Panthers' Andy Williams. Williams hit a deep fly to the base of the right field fence to drive in Lacell with the game-winning run.
The Panthers players exploded out of the dugout to mob both Lacell and Williams and celebrate the school's first district title in years.
"That's amazing since there have been a lot of great players go through this program," said Panthers coach Josh Corr, in his second season. "It's been a while. We had chances earlier, but when you have runners in scoring position you have to get a hit. Their lefty kept us off balance all night. he competed in the strike zone and his fastball ran away from the hitters. He was almost unhittable, but if he had a changeup he'd be better. I'm not looking forward to facing him next year."
The Panthers (19-8) earn home field advantage for at least the first round of regional playoffs. Next Thursday night, they host District 5A-14 runner-up Lely. The Seahawks (15-10) must travel Thursday to Estero, which pounded Lely 14-1 Friday night.
"It's tough to play on the road, but we know what to expect," said Gorton. "I just have to talk to the kids, straighten them out and get their minds right again after tonight."
The Seahawks broke the scoreless tie in the fifth inning, scratching out one run thanks to the bottom of the batting order. With two out, Alex Polidan singled sharply to right. Baily Wilson delivered a hit-and-run single to right-center with Polidan beating the throw to the plate.
In the sixth, a leadoff single by Scott Dudas set the tone for another run. Dudas was sacrificed to second and Kyle Arjona walked. Matt Hale forced Dudas at third base on a bouncer back to the mound.
The Seahawks took advantage of several swinging bunts down the third base line on the night, including one by Dylan Bontrager to load the bases. David Schulz did the same thing, driving in the second run.
The Seahawks doubled their lead in the top of the seventh. Back to back walks with one out and Cody Carroll's chopper in front of the plate loaded the bases once again. Arjona, who was the winning pitcher Wednesday night in the semifinal game against Mariner, bounced a single up the middle through a drawn-in infield boosting the lead to 4-0.
The Seahawks finished with seven base hits, six of those coming in the last three innings.
Cape Coral 000 011 2 - 4 7 1
Cypress Lake 000 000 5 - 5 6 1
W - Hammond. L - Lawrence.
2B - Lacell (CL), Williams (CL).