PONTE VEDRA BEACH – Clay High 6’-foot-2” left fielder Dylan Faulkner may very well have been a relief pitcher in the seventh inning, but a decision to pull Andy Yarbrough in from first base …
PONTE VEDRA BEACH – Clay High 6’-foot-2” left fielder Dylan Faulkner may very well have been a relief pitcher in the seventh inning, but a decision to pull Andy Yarbrough in from first base first proved prophetic for the Blue Devils.
“Connor (starting pitcher Connor Solomon) was getting into the seventh inning and we needed to make a change,” said Clay coach Josh Persinger, who now heads to the Tues., May 22 region final a second year in a row against Mosley High of Lynn Haven. “We went with Andy, our senior, because he has good moving pitches that are harder to hit. Andy has been our best reliever all season.”
In the prophetic seventh inning, with the score locked at 2-2, Ponte Vedra opened with Tony Roca coming to bat to try and sway the game to the Sharks after Ponte Vedra had nullified a 2-0 Clay lead in the third inning.
Roca nailed the first pitch, with Solomon on the mound, and launched a missile shot toward the left field fence where Faulkner was retreating with his back to the infield in similar fashion to a double to the same fence in the sixth inning.
“That first one I lost in the light and didn’t see it until it hit the bottom of the fence,” said Faulkner. “The second one, I followed it right from the bat and knew I had to get to the fence fast.”
Fast it was, as Faulkner got to the fence, braced, leaped and snatched the ball wrist-high on the top of the fence to send the Clay dugout into a frenzy.
“If Nick (Nick Barrie, 5’-8” outfielder that would have replace Faulkner) was there, I don’t know if he could have jumped that high for that one,” said Persinger with a coy smile. “I’ll take it.”
Yarbrough would enter the game after the Faulkner catch and turn up the Blue Devil defense with Tyler Spence ending that crucial seventh inning and putting the game into a late-night eighth inning near 9:30 p.m. after a 90 minute rain delay before the opening pitch.
Clay, now 24-6 after avenging a 6-4 district championship loss to Ponte Vedra, heads to Mosley (22-5) for the region final. Clay advances to the region final with playoffs wins over Stanton (5-1) and Ponte Vedra (4-2) while Mosley advances with wins over Fort Walton Beach (3-1) and West Florida (8-1).
In the other region finals, Dunnellon (20-7) plays Tampa Jefferson (19-8); Merritt Island (22-6) plays American Heritage (25-3) and Dunedin (19-10) plays Barron Collier (18-12). Clay would play the Dunnellon/Jefferson winner in the state semifinal. In 2017, Archbishop McCarthy beat Tampa Jesuit 5-1 for the 6A title. Mosley beat Clay 3-0 in the region final with Dunedin losing to Jesuit in the semifinal. Mosley lost to Archbishop McCarthy in that state semifinal.
Against Ponte Vedra, in the fourth game between the two schools this year, Clay scored first in the third inning with a run-scoring single from Josh Lemen that scored Kevin Jackson who had singled as the opening batter. An error in centerfield on a deep Solomon fly ball scored Lemen to put Clay up 2-0.
“We knew that would not be enough,” said Persinger. “I just told them to settle in for a fight.”
In the bottom of the third, Roca opened with an errant third strike pitch that wound up a single off a heads-up run to first base that got followed by two singles to score the Sharks first run. A double steal by Ponte Vedra set up a rushed throw from Clay shortstop Collin Gross that scored the tying run at 2-2 before Gross knocked down a second grounder to end the inning.
In the fourth, Yarbrough got to second base on a dropped chopper over second base, but stayed there via strikeout and ground out.
Ponte Vedra got a walk off Solomon in the bottom of the fourth, but Spence initiated a spectacular 5-6-3 double play to squash the inning.
Roca entered the game on the mound for Ponte Vedra and quickly put two Clay batters on with a hit batter and a walk, but the Blue Devils’ could not capitalize with Solomon striking out and Chase Holman flying out.
“In the district final, we were getting the bat on the ball, but not getting it past their defense,” said Persinger. “Our placement was not good that night and we struggled.”
In the sixth, Solomon settled in for two strikeouts sandwiching a long Lemen throw to first on a grounder that again ignited the Clay dugout.
Ponte Vedra put a baserunner at second on Faulkner’s misplay at the left field fence but Yarbrough made his own highlight reel play with a stab of a hard ground inside the first base line and a toss to Solomon at first that beat Ponte Vedra batter Zach Chappel to the bag.
“That and Dylan’s catch on the fence were probably the biggest plays of the night,” said Persinger. “If Connor is not a seasoned player and knows to head to first base on that grounder, they get on base and become a threat.”
After two groundouts in the seventh, Spence got to second base on a single and steal before Lemen grounded out.
In the eighth, Clay got a double from Holman after a Solomon strikeout, but Ponte Vedra punched up their own spectacular double play to end the inning.
“That’s what makes this a great rivalry, neither team was ready to throw in the towel,” said Persinger.
In the bottom of the eighth, Ponte Vedra had a shot at a winning run, but Lemen and Gross combined for a nice rundown between second and first base with Solomon to out the threat. Jackson ran down a long fly ball that looked to be trouble in right field to end the inning.
“We answered,” said Persinger.
In the top of the ninth, Faulkner walked and moved to second on a Jackson bunt to set up the go-ahead single from Nick Barrie as Faulkner slid behind the Ponte Vedra catcher for a 3-2 score. Barrie got to third base and Lemen walked to set up an insurance run off a Solomon single over third base. A walk to Holman loaded the bases, but Yarbrough struck out to end the game 4-2.
In Ponte Vedra’s final attempt to change the outcome, Yarbrough got a dribbling groundout, a flyout to Jackson in right field and a final strikeout.