Thirty-three's a charm.
Since its establishment in 1980, Countryside High has never had a baseball team do what the Cougars did Friday evening at Pinellas Park. Squaring off against a Seminole program rich in history that it already lost to twice this season, C-Side put it all together to win the school's first-ever district championship.
The Cougars earned their 3-0 victory in the Class 7A District 10 title game by receiving a determined pitching effort from Christian Townsend and stellar infield defense that produced three inning-ending double plays.
Townsend shut down the Warhawks for 6 1/3 innings, scattering five singles, three walks and a hit batter. Seminole hitters never seemed to get their timing down against the junior and his relatively new pitching style. The Countryside coaching staff dropped Townsend's arm slot down to the side earlier this season.
“You've got to hand it to CT,” Countryside coach Kemo O'Sullivan said of Townsend, who ran a pitch count of 104. “He really stepped up for us today.”
Top-seeded Seminole (20-7) never advanced a runner past second base and the Cougars' defense continually snuffed out potential rallies before they could get truly threatening.
“Rolling the double plays, that saved me,” Townsend said. “That saved the game. If they didn't do that it could have been a whole different ball game.”
Countryside, entering the tournament as the league's No. 2 seed, ended Seminole's last three innings with double plays, including the game-ender rolled by reliever Charlie Skantze. Townsend ceded control of the game with one out in the bottom of the seventh with runners at first and second.
Standing 60 feet, 6 inches away from Skantze was Seminole leadoff hitter Alex McGathey, already 2-for-3 on the night.
“You've got Alex McGathey coming up and I've known him now for a couple years,” Skantze said of the fire he was tossed into. “He's always been a good hitter and I was just trying to keep the ball low. I didn't get ahead of him as I should have, but then he just put one on the ground which is what we needed.”
Starting that final 6-4-3 double play was Skantze's replacement at shortstop, Bobby Held.
“Of course,” O'Sullivan said McGathey's grounder heading straight to the new fielder. "They always find you. In Bobby Held's defense, he had a starting job and he lost it. But he's had nothing but a positive attitude, he's always on the bench making noise and he's always working.”
Countryside's other middle infielder, second baseman Johnathan Feibus, played his position flawlessly behind Cougars pitchers. The junior was in on all three double plays and recorded five assists and three put-outs.
Along with picking up the save Friday, Skantze provided C-Side with all the runs it would eventually need in the second inning. With two outs and the bases loaded, Skantze sent a hanging curveball into left field for a two-run base hit that scored his brother, Jack Skantze, and center fielder Kevin Rosinski.
Charlie Skantze said the Cougars (17-10) came into Friday night with a solid game plan against Seminole starter Tylor Craft and plenty of motivation. “This is a game we had to get. What we discussed early in the game is that they love to throw outside. All of us crowded the plate tight and we all put good swings on the ball.”
C-Side left fielder Zach Taylor boosted the Cougars' lead to 3-0 in the fourth on another two-out hit that plated sophomore Mike Adams.
Along with giving Countryside its first-ever league championship, Friday night's win also allows the Cougars to stay at home and play District 7A-9 runner-up Wiregrass Ranch (17-9) next week. The alternative, one that now faces Seminole, is traveling to nationally ranked Steinbrenner High (23-2).
Both of those region quarterfinal games will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday night.
C-Side - 020 100 0 --- 3-8-1Seminole - 000 000 0 --- 0-5-2
WP – Christian TownsendLP – Tylor Craft