BAYSHORE GARDENS -- Alex Pinero has had memorable birthdays before.
But from a baseball perspective, no celebration stands out more for the 19-year-old State College of Florida sophomore than what happened Saturday against Polk State College at Robert C. Wynn Field.
Pinero, a third baseman, drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning and made the final putout in foul territory while falling backward in the top of the ninth inning to preserve SCF's 2-1 victory over the Eagles in Suncoast Conference action.
"I told the guys before the game that this would be like a state tournament-style ballgame, because they were throwing their ace," SCF head coach Tim Hill II said. "And their guy was pretty good, too. Runs were hard to come by (Saturday), and it's nice to leave here with a win."
The Manatees (16-6, 3-1) committed three errors in the first three innings, which led to Polk State scoring the first run.
Justin Garcia's single in the bottom of the fourth inning scored Sean Trent to even the game at 1.
From there, SCF right-hander Reggie McClain and Polk's Matt Pearce traded zeroes on the scoreboard until Pinero's late heroics.
McClain, SCF's Missouri-bound ace, changed speeds constantly to baffle the Eagles. He registered six strikeouts in eight innings, while allowing one unearned run.
"They really didn't know what was coming," McClain said. "I was able to fool them with the change-up and the off-speed and then the fastball to be sneaky."
Despite the early defensive miscues, SCF gave McClain some help in the field. Former Manatee High standout Trevor Beeman snagged a scorching line drive in the fourth inning to rob Casey Schroeder of a hit, and Pinero made a game-saving play in the seventh inning. Pinero was playing shallow at the hot corner when Shane Gordon rapped a grounder down the third-base line. Pinero corralled the ball on a dive, got up and fired a bullet to first to get Gordon.
It ended up saving a run when Cody DeNoyelles followed with a double and was later stranded.
"He hit the ball pretty hard, and I kind of reacted to it," Pinero said.
Pinero followed that up with the key single to provide SCF with the winning margin.
Beeman led off the eighth inning by reaching first base when Polk State right fielder Luke Parker dropped a fly ball.
Trent pushed Beeman into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. After Scott Williams (2-for-3) was intentionally walked to set up a double-play scenario and Garcia fouled out to third baseman J.D. Osborne, the stage was set for Pinero's clutch moment.
"I was kind of nervous, but I felt like I needed to come through," said Pinero about the single down the right-field line that plated Beeman.
And in the ninth inning, Ryan Valdes picked up the save for the Manatees when Pinero squeezed the final out in foul territory that stranded Polk's Daniel Sweet at third base with the potential tying run.
It all added up to a memorable 19th birthday celebration for Pinero, who said he ranks it as No. 1.
SCF shortstop Chase Sandberg collected two hits to pace the Manatees.