FLEMING ISLAND – Fleming Island High senior pitcher Caleb Lanoux and interim head baseball coach Grant Bigilin, both with resurgent end-of-season heroics for the Golden Eagles’ baseball team, had …
FLEMING ISLAND – Fleming Island High senior pitcher Caleb Lanoux and interim head baseball coach Grant Bigilin, both with resurgent end-of-season heroics for the Golden Eagles’ baseball team, had their topsy-turvy yet exhilirating ride end with the crack of a double to centerfield as Strawberry Crest, equally a new player on the Class 8A baseball scene, won a 2-0 nine inning clash Tuesday night at Fleming Island High School.
Teary-eyed and silent was Fleming Island High head coach Marty Lanoux, in the dugout, but still recovering from heart surgery a month ago, when asked of his son’s efforts to put the Golden Eagles in position for a possible state tournament berth.
“We found out ways to close games in the latter part of the season,” said Marty Lanoux. “Baseball is baseball and the little things count. We didn’t get the hits we have had the past three games.”
Fleming Island played nearly toe-to-toe with the tough hitting Strawberry Crest Chargers until the ninth inning where two singles and two steals set up a two-run double off the centerfield fence.
“We just put everything on the table and see what happens,” said Lanoux, who mastered three region playoff wins for the Golden Eagles to get the historic championship game. “We dreamed of a game like this, just not this ending.”
The region final game itself was a first-time championship home game to be played at Fleming Island High School.
“We played so many close games this season with one or two run losses that we didn’t want to feel this way once the playoffs started,” said Bigilin, who played in 2011 on Fleming Island’s last region final team under coach Don Suriano. “Obviously, we played a good team tonight. Our 2011 game was on the road. It was a lot of fun and we had a load of people here supporting the team. It’s been a great ride.”
Fleming Island held court with Strawberry Crest behind a gallant third pitching start from Lanoux and some standout play at shortstop from Noah McCollum that kept the Chargers from advancing despite numerous baserunners making it to third base.
“We are going to miss Caleb for sure,” said Bigilin. “He is such a tough competitor and he makes the rest of the team do the necessary plays to make the outs out there. He’s been the heart and sole of this team.”
In the first inning, Fleming Island got smacked with a hard grounder to third baseman Zack Mercer that quickly put a baserunner in play, but McCollum retaliated with his own double play with a snag of a line drive and a toss out at first base to extinguish the error.
In the second inning, a second error at third to Mercer put runners in play with McCollum knocking down a deep grounder, but offering to throw to first base to leave two runners in play.
From there, though, Lanoux settled the score with two strikeouts and a grounder back to McCollum to keep the baserunners in place.
“It’s baseball, the breaks went there way,” said Marty Lanoux. “Calab has a knack for bearing down in tough situations.”
For the next five innings, both teams would be shut out from putting baserunners in play with Strawberry Crest getting another error-induced runner in the fourth, but Fleming Island second baseman Collier Summers ending the inning with a nifty grab and throw.
Both pitchers added two strikeouts apiece in the fourth and fifth innings to keep the game tense.
In the top of the sixth, Lanoux left a runner on base with an inning-ending strikeout while Fleming Island got two baserunners in the bottom of the sixth on walks, but two strikeouts ended that effort.
Fleming Island had one final shot to end the game with Justin Hawkins getting to first by getting hit with a pitch, but Adam Peck was struck out to put the game into extra innings.
Peck would then steal an out on the foul line fence in right field on a good effort on a high fly ball with Summers getting an umpire out call on an interference call at second base that completed a double play.
Fleming Island final at bats in the ninth got a walk to Cole Belcher but grounders to end the game.