DUNEDIN — The stadium magic wasn't quite there for Dunedin this time.
After celebrating walk-off victories in their previous two games at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, the Falcons' seventh-inning heroics came up a little short Friday night against Class 5A District 8 frontrunner River Ridge (14-4, 10-2).
Royal Knights starting pitcher Tyler Hawks struck out the final two Dunedin batters with the bases loaded to preserve a 4-2 win.
“Last year when I pitched, I pitched to contact. This year I try to strike more people out,” the junior righty said after fanning 10 Falcons.
Hawks' proficiency at jumping ahead in the count and then getting to strike three slammed the brakes on a number of Dunedin scoring opportunities, Falcons coach Ron Sexton said.
“I never thought, after the talk we had this week, that we'd have more than five strikeouts tonight,” he said. “And we doubled that.
“We preach avoiding the 0-2 count or the 1-2 count, but tonight we lived in it.”
Dunedin (10-8, 6-6) managed to get at least one baserunner in scoring position in six of seven innings Friday but could only push two across – one in the third and another in the too-little, too-late seventh.
The win strengthens River Ridge's grip on first place in the District 5A-8 standings and makes Dunedin's prospects for climbing up from fifth look a little dimmer.
“It was a big win,” said Hawks, who also went 1-for-4 with an RBI. “We're doing good. We're playing as a team. Last year there wasn't much of a team, but this year we have a solid core, we like to hang out a lot and we're a close-knit team.”
River Ridge received another strong night from junior Jason Heinrich at the plate. One day removed from slamming his second and third home runs of the season in a 6-2 win over Pasco High, the right fielder went 3-for-3 with a double and two runs scored.
Heinrich also started up the Royal Knights' two-run fourth inning by taking first base after being hit by an Aaron Turman pitch. Catcher Michael Pineda picked up an RBI single to tie the score and River Ridge went up 2-1 on an error that allowed Devon Woodward to score.
Turman didn't figure in Friday's decision after striking out five and giving up six hits and two unearned runs over six innings of work.
Dunedin initially grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third after taking advantage of two River Ridge fielding errors. Eric Sexton drove in pinch runner Logan Kearns with a run-scoring single.
The Royal Knights picked up their two big insurance runs in the top of the seventh off Sexton, who came in to relieve Turman. Hawks and Pineda both drove in runs with base hits that scored Harrison Keslar and Heinrich, respectively.
Runs three and four proved huge after Dunedin loaded the bases on Hawks in the home half with only one out.
“That was big,” Hawks said of the Royal Knights' late offense. “We needed a couple more runs in that last inning. We needed to just go out and execute. That's our motto this year: Execute. We did it and that's why we came out with the win.”
Dunedin catcher Justin Glover cut the lead to 4-2 with a single that scored Tim Luth and kept the bases loaded, but Hawks buckled down and whiffed Logan Jones and Turman, consecutively.
Dunedin and River Ridge will play their final two District 5A-8 games next week.
The Falcons have four games in five days scheduled. The key league games are Tuesday at Tarpon Springs and Friday at home against Anclote. Dunedin also hosts Palm Harbor University at the stadium on Monday night and goes to Clearwater on Wednesday.
The Royal Knights host Anclote on Tuesday and go to last-place Gulf on Friday. A Thursday non-league trip to Wesley Chapel is sandwiched between the aforementioned games.
RR - 000 200 2 --- 4-9-3
Dun - 001 000 1 --- 2-5-1
WP – Tyler Hawks (2-1)
LP – Eric Sexton (0-2)
River Ridge (14-4, 10-2)
Tyler Hawks – W, 7.0 IP, 2 R, 1 ER, 5 H, 10 K, 3 BB – 1-for-4, 1 RBI
Jason Heinrich – 3-for-3, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HBP
Michael Pineda – 2-for-4, 2 RBI
Dunedin (10-8, 6-6)
Aaron Turman – ND, 6.0 IP, 2 R, 0 ER, 6 H, 5 K, 1 BB, 1 HBP – 1-for-4
Justin Glover – 1-for-4, 1 RBI
Alex Sexton – 1-for-3, 1 R