AVON PARK — Tampa Catholic utilized solid pitching from AJ Chacon and timely hitting to post a 5-1 win over Avon Park in the Class 4A-Region 3 quarterfinals Thursday night at Charles R. Head Field.
The Crusaders, who improved to 17-9, advance to the regional semifinals, while the Red Devils finished the season 20-5.
“It was one of those nights,” said Avon Park coach Whit Cornell. “We hit a lot of balls hard but they were right at somebody. “It wasn’t for a lack of work or effort and it’s disappointing especially for the seniors to have the season come to an end.
“I’m proud of this team because we were 20-5 and won the district championship for the second straight year.”
Tampa Catholic, which banged out nine hits, took the lead in the top of the first inning on a double by Jordan Santos, a sacrifice bunt and an Avon Park fielding error.
Avon Park threatened in the bottom of the frame as leadoff batter Alfred Brown reached on an error and Mykel Gordon lined a two-out single to right field.
But Chacon induced a ground ball out to escape trouble.
The Crusaders added a pair of runs in the third inning off Avon Park right-hander Daniel Simons.
Jordan Butler worked a walk, advanced to second base on a wild pitch and scored on a single to center field by Paul Russo. Another run scored on a fielder’s choice ground out to give Tampa Catholic a 3-0 lead.
That was more than enough support for Chacon as the left-hander scattered four hits in his six innings of work.
Kenny McGrath came on in relief of Simons in the fourth inning and the left-hander kept the game close to give the Red Devils a chance to rally.
Tampa Catholic tacked on a run in the fourth inning on a hit batter, a stolen base and a Red Devil throwing error to take a 4-0 lead.
Avon Park, which had four hits, got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the sixth inning on a towering solo home run over the right-field wall by right fielder Tyrone Perry to trim its deficit to 4-1.
A questionable out call at first base on the previous batter Luis Martinez proved to be a big call.
Tampa Catholic tacked on an insurance run on an RBI single by Cody Ellis in the top of the seventh and Martin Reeves came on in relief of Chacon in the bottom of the frame.
The hard-throwing junior right-hander retired the Red Devils in order to seal the regional victory for the Crusaders.
“We’re really going to miss our seniors because they set the tone the last four years,” Cornell said. “We made the playoffs three years, won two district titles and had a great year.”
Despite the loss, the Red Devils are primed for another state playoff run next year.
“The good news is we have a solid nucleus of players coming back and we have a bunch of good players coming up from the junior varsity,” Cornell said. “If we work hard, we should be able to have another quality season next year.”