SARASOTA -- There weren't too many smiles on the third-base side of Sarasota High's Ronald K. Drews Field on Thursday night.
Following their 9-6 loss to Naples Barron Collier during the finals of the Sarasota Baseball Classic's Elite Division, the Manatee Hurricanes accepted their runner-up trophies, clapped while the Cougars accepted their championship memorabilia and jogged to left field for a quick postgame huddle with coach Dwayne Strong.
There was, however, some encouragement.
Despite the sour finish, Strong feels Manatee (8-5) may be trending up after an inconsistent start to the season.
"It's been like a playoff atmosphere," Strong said. "It's a good thing. I feel like we're moving in the right place and doing the right things."
Following a sloppy loss to Flanagan on Monday, the Hurricanes defeated Miami Sunset and Venice in their final at-bats to win the division's Pool A and meet the Cougars in the finals. Manatee jumped to a quick 1-0 lead before a nightmarish third inning, when Barron Collier scored seven runs, including five with two outs.
The Canes walked four batters in the inning, uncorked a pair of wild pitches, committed an error and allowed the Cougars to steal three bases.
"It's unfortunate that it happened," Strong said. "But hopefully it's a good learning point for us moving forward."
Garrett Waiters, who was sick Wednesday, lasted 21/3 innings for Manatee and was spelled by Reed Carter, who kept Barron Collier at bay while Manatee scored four runs in the fourth to close to within 8-5. But Cougars' reliever Jesse Ferreira struck out Chase Sandberg with runners on second and third and retired the next
"Reed came in and did a good job," Strong said. "We had opportunities, but didn't capitalize. (Barron Collier) did a great job. Take nothing away from them."
The Canes made things interesting in the seventh, loading the bases with none out. But Trevor Beeman struck out, Tyler Souris rolled a run-scoring groundout to second, and Danny Kerwin bounced out to short.
Danny Lee had two hits, Correlle Prime had two RBIs, and Cord Sandberg walked twice, was hit by a pitch to force in a run and singled.
He reached base nine straight times over Manatee's final two games of the tournament.
"In the two wins, everybody was into it, everybody was excited about the wins and making noise, which is good," Cord said. "I think that's big. Everyone is kind of starting to believe that maybe we can do it again. This team's as good as anybody in the state at any point in time."
Manatee hopes to further some of its momentum beginning next Friday, when the Hurricanes resume Class 7A-District 11 play against host Sarasota.
"We're doing what we need to do," Strong said, "and we're going to be in the right spot come (the district tournament)."
IMG ACADEMIES 1, MIAMI CORAL REEF 0 -- Alfredo Escalera's walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh gave IMG the Premier Division championship at the Sarasota Baseball Classic.
It was the third walk-off hit of the year for Escalera, 17, but his first home run.
"I hit it good. I took a little glance," he said, "and then I knew."
Escalera, a senior, singled and doubled for IMG (8-2). IMG coach Jason Elias said Escalera will be the country's youngest draft-eligible player, and he Escalera the day off Wednesday to help assuage some of the pressure.
"And one of the assistants back home said, 'I think Alfredo's going to have a big day (Thursday),'" Elias said. "Big's not the word for it. He really stepped up."
Mack Mayer started for IMG and retired the first 14 batters before Carlo Ugalde reached on a dropped third strike in the sixth.
Mayer went six innings and reliever Sam Proctor pitched around two hits and a hit batsman in the top of the seventh to earn the win.
GREENBRIER (TENN.) 6, BRADENTON CHRISTIAN 2 -- Greenbrier (Tenn.) scored four runs in the top of the seventh inning to take down host Bradenton Christian despite being outhit 9-6.
The Panthers (3-7) got two hits apiece from Lance Perkins and Sam Lister.
OUT-OF-DOOR ACADEMY 10, SAINT STEPHEN'S 0 (5) -- The Falcons managed just three hits and fell on the road in Class 3A-District 10 action. Ben Israel, Jacob Westberry and Chad Tolentino got the hits for Saint Stephen's (3-4, 2-3).