ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County defended its title Sunday night at Tropicana Field.
The club of senior all-stars took out its counterpart from across the bay for the second straight year, beating Team Hillsborough 5-2 in the nine-inning game.
“It's a big deal to beat those guys,” said Pinellas Park coach Pat Russo, leading Team Pinellas to both victories. “For years I was on the other side of the bridge and we never thought these guys could play. They've done an unbelievable job the last two years playing together and our practices have been great.”
Team Pinellas broke open a pitcher's duel in the fourth inning when Northeast catcher Bret Maxwell ripped a two-run double down the third-base line that scored Connor Labrie (St. Petersburg) and Keegan Maronpot (East Lake).
“I had two strikes so I just shortened up and he left one up there and I got a good pitch to hit,” Maxwell said of the hit that eventually earned him Team Pinellas MVP honors. “All I was trying to do was get the runners in and it went down the line.”
Team Hillsborough got on the board in the home half of the sixth and cut its deficit to 2-1. Newsome's Delvin Cerrato first reached base when hit by a pitch from Christian Townsend (Countryside), advanced to third on consecutive groundouts, and then scored on a wild pitch.
That was as close as Team Hillsborough would get, though, as Team Pinellas never surrendered its lead.
An exciting three-run eighth inning put Team Pinellas ahead 5-1 and provided ample run support for its talented stable of pitchers. Joe Simmons (Dixie Hollins) led off by turning a bloop into shallow right into a double. Team Pinellas would put runners at second and third and then attempt a suicide squeeze that resulted in a passed ball and both runners, Simmons and Richie Rivera (St. Petersburg), coming around.
“When Joey got to third base – that guy stole 37 bases this year – he was asking me what I think,” Russo said of the exchange with Simmons. “I was like, 'Hey man, if you steal home you better make it.' Because if not they're going to think I'm doing it and it's not going to turn out good.
“When he took off it just turned out to be an inside pitch. Gibby knew he was coming and the ball ended up kicking away and we got another run on it,” Russo said, referring to the batter at the time, Clearwater Central Catholic's Derek Gibree.
Gibree also represented Team Pinellas' fifth and final run. He recorded a single after the squeeze attempt, stole second, stole third and scored when the latter swipe attempt resulted in a throw sailing into left field.
Team Pinellas finished with eight stolen bases on the night.
Chamberlain's Allan Radice posted Team Hillsborough's lone RBI in the bottom of the eighth to make it 5-2, plating Randy Oliva (Gaither) with a single.
Team Hillsborough starting pitcher Shane Haight (Sickles) was named his side's MVP after tossing two clean frames of one-hit, two-strikeout ball.
Earning the win for Team Pinellas was Northeast's Josh Hale, who pitched the third inning and worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam without surrendering a run.
Team Pinellas trotted out 10 pitchers to the Tropicana Field mound, compared to seven by Team Hillsborough.
Sunday's night game was played a couple hours after the stadium's normal occupants, the Tampa Bay Rays, polished off their three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox. Maxwell, whose family has season tickets, said it was a great experience to play under the big-league lights.
“In my last at bat against East Lake I had a nice shot but I got thrown out at second, so I definitely had to redeem myself a little bit here, especially on a field like this,” Maxwell said. “You watch all the all-time greats come through this place, it's awesome.”
Pin - 000 200 030 --- 5-9-1
Hill - 000 001 010 --- 2-5-4
WP – Josh Hale (Northeast)
LP – Dante Bosnic (Berkeley Prep)