Baseball | Falcons fall in district quarterfinals

jlembo@bradenton.comApril 22, 2014 

BRADENTON -- It wasn't a happy ending.

But in the eyes of Scott Sauerbeck, it was a fitting one.

Saint Stephen's baseball coach saw his team's season come to a close courtesy of a 7-5 loss to the Imagine School of North Port on Monday in a Class 3A-District 10 quarterfinal. And the final two outs stung.

Caleb Eyre was at the plate, up 2-0 on the count, and Keith Dunkelberger was on second in the seventh with one out. Dunkelberg broke from second, attempting to steal the Falcons' 10th base of the game, when Eyre swung and popped the ball up behind the plate.

Sharks' catcher Andy Duffey made the catch near the backstop and then easily doubled Dunkelberger off second.

Game over. Season over.

"That's really the story of our year with this team -- they find a way to beat themselves," Sauerbeck said. "Whether it's throwing to the wrong base or bad baserunning … or at the end there, we're taking until we get a strike, and the kid swings and pops it up."

Playing their first ever postseason baseball game, the Sharks (7-18) scored all their runs in a bizarre first inning. They needed just two hits and got the ball out of the infield twice -- both off the bat of Patrick Swales, both of which went for outs -- but dropped down three consecutive run-scoring bunts with the

bases loaded.

"I'm a big proponent of getting your first guy on and moving him over," said Sharks coach Bryant Sturz. "I love to play small-ball, and make them make the outs. It definitely worked out in our favor."

So did patience -- fifth-seeded Imagine School drew three bases-loaded walks during the inning, too

"Our starter (Nick Runde) was having mechanical issues, and we didn't throw to the right base. Part of that's my fault," Sauerbeck said. "I have to do a better job of getting them prepared, I guess."

The Falcons (10-15), the tournament's fourth seed, found a silver lining in senior Justin Gregorius, who got the final two outs of the first inning despite issuing two run-scoring walks, and kept the Sharks off the scoreboard the rest of the way. He allowed three hits over the final six innings while striking out six.

"He's a senior, he was on short rest and he came in and shut the door down," Sauerbeck said, "and gave us a chance."

A RBI single by Griffin Donnelly got the Falcons on the board in the fifth, and Saint Stephen's added three more in the sixth on singles by Parker Shananan and Eyre, and a fielder's choice by Andrew Csubak.

But reliever Brian Smith got Nick Rodhouse to ground into an inning-ending force out with the bases loaded.

The Sharks, who celebrated by dousing Sturz with what was left in the cooler, meet top-seeded Out-of-Door Academy at 7 p.m. Wednesday in a semifinal at ODA. Third-seeded Bradenton Christian plays second-seeded Cardinal Mooney at 4:30 pm. Wednesday in the tournament's other semifinal, and the winners play for the championship at 7 p.m. Friday at McKechnie Field.

"We always talk all year long that it's not how you start, it's how you finish," Sturz said. "Riding a five-game win streak and doing it in districts is something special, so I'm real proud of these boys."

Shanahan had three hits and Joe Schneider drew three walks and made three sliding catches in right field for the Falcons.

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