DOVER — Strawberry Crest is headed to the Class 8A region final for the first time in school history. The Chargers defeated district rival Wharton 3-2 Wednesday night, which is fitting since three of the four games between the teams this season were decided by one run.
Strawberry Crest (18-8) will play at Fleming Island (12-13) on Tuesday for the right to go to the state semifinals in Fort Myers. Wharton ends its season at 17-9.
"That's a good team we played," Strawberry Crest coach Eric Beattie said. "Our team had to battle, and this team battles. They are fun to watch play."
The game-winning run did not come on a clutch hit, but instead from a Wharton mistake. With the score tied 2-2 in the fifth, Joey Parillo led off the inning with a walk. He then made it to third on an errant pick-off attempt.
That ended the night for Wharton starter Brian Baughman. Steven Hotinski came on in relief. While facing Tanner Kelley, Hotinski was called for a balk, which allowed Baughman to score from third.
Strawberry Crest went on to load the bases with two outs, but Hotinski got out of it with a flyball to rightfield. The one-run lead was all Chargers reliever Damien Torres needed.
Torres, who entered the game in the top of the fifth inning, hit leadoff hitter Duncan Pastore to start the sixth inning. But he got out of that mini jam when Zach Ehrhard flew out to first while Pastore attempted to steal second. Pastore was unable to get back to first in time to tag up, which resulted in a double play.
In the seventh inning, Torres gave up a one-out single to Ricky Viloria. Viloria stole second with two outs and was in scoring position for Baughman. That prompted a visit to the mound by Beattie.
"We've had trouble getting (Baughman) out all year so we just told him that if he gets a hit it needs to be on our pitch," Beattie said. "If there is ever a time to nibble a bit, this is it. The first two pitches were executed perfectly. Fortunately we got the chase from somebody who doesn't chase."
Torres was able to get the strike out to end the game.
"My mind set was that one run lead was all I needed," Torres said. "I'll take that run anyway we can get it. Our teams fights. That's a really good team over there and somebody had to win. I'm sure happy it was us."
Wharton scored the first two runs of the game in the first inning off Chargers starter Brent May. Ehrhard walked with the bases loaded for the first run and Dylan McDonald hit a fielder's choice to plate the second.
Strawberry Crest came back with two in the second. Ben Pues had an RBI double that scored Ryan Dell from first. Jacob Heath had an RBI single to drive in Pues. It was a pitcher's duel until the Chargers broke the tie in the fifth.
"We've been this far but never won this game," Torres said. "It feels great."