Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was pressure. Maybe it was just bad luck.
Whatever it was, it struck Brandon High's baseball team hard Sunday in the Class 7A state championship at Digital Domain Park.
Venice took advantage of three errors and as many mental lapses by Brandon as the Indians beat the Eagles, 4-2, to win their second state title in five years.
"We struggled with three balls that didn't leave the infield," Brandon coach Matt Stallbaumer said. "When you're hitting fungo in practice, you typically don't work on awkward, in-between hops situations. Instincts take over and you just go with it."
Brandon (20-9) gave up three runs in the top of the fourth inning and the ball never left the infield. Twice, Brandon infielders fielded ground balls and by the time they decided where to throw, it was too late.
Three of the four Indians runs were unearned.
"It you hesitate on those situations or you're not ready, it comes up and bites you," Stallbaumer said. "It you look at it, that fourth inning was kind of the separation in the game.
"It can be frustrating on all sides because it's not like you're getting beat by hit balls in the gap or down the line. There just was some hesitation and then you're feet aren't set and then you make errant throws. That just kind of took over in that inning."
Brandon jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second. Chris Toney led off with a single and Michael Caballero moved him to third with a one-out single. Venice (24-8) botched a double-play attempt, allowing Toney to score. But the Eagles left two runners on as the inning ended.
After falling behind 4-1, Brandon had a great chance to tie the score or take the lead in the fifth.
Against Venice starter Brandon Elmy, a sophomore making his fourth start of the season, the Eagles got consecutive singles from Jordan Feist, Miguel Fajardo and Tyler Raymond, the latter scoring Feist.
But with runners on first and second, Venice coach Craig Faulkner went to the bullpen. First, he brought in senior Tyson Albert to face Austin Sullivan. But after three pitches, including a wild pitch, Faulkner went back to the mound and summoned sidearm ace reliever Cooper Hammond.
"I felt like if we could keep (the score) one run behind, we could scratch a couple runs across," Stallbaumer said. "We left a couple runners on in the second and then we left some runners on (in the fifth inning) right when they made the pitching change. We tried a safety squeeze and the guy bunted right through it. We were really trying to get another run (before the pitching change)."
Hammond, who threw 57 pitches in 5 2/3 innings in Saturday's semifinal, got Sullivan on strikes and Eric Hinostroza to ground into a fielder's choice to end the inning.
The change from an overhand delivery to the sidearm submarine was a tough adjustment for the Eagles.
"You can talk about (the sidearm delivery) and you can preach it, but if you don't have a guy that can do it on a regular basis, I don't know the day before the state final game that's something you can prep for," Stallbaumer said. "You don't necessarily want to tell your team that."
Brandon went quietly in the final two innings with Caballero, the only base runner, reaching on an error with two outs in the sixth.
"But what an unbelievable ride," Stallbaumer said. "This has been one enjoyable, humbling experience for a high school baseball coach to take a group of kids this far. Our community came together, our fans came together. It was one memorable trip that we all will hang this medal at our house."
Venice 001 300 0 – 4 8 3
Brandon 010 010 0 – 2 5 3
W – Elmy (3-0). L – Hinostroza (5-3). S – Hammond (6). Records – V 24-8, B 20-9.