EAST MANATEE -- Knowing Tuesday's game could have been the last of the season, Braden River head baseball coach Mike Verrill told his players to have fun and relax.
That can be a tall order. But with Brooks Norton on the mound, Verrill has seen things go smoothly when the senior throws to his capabilities.
The right-hander did just that, tossing a three-hitter and striking out eight to lead the host Pirates in a 3-0 Class 7A-District 11 quarterfinal victory over Punta Gorda Charlotte.
Norton came into the game with a 2.07 ERA built over a team-high 47 1/3 innings with a team-leading 42 strikeouts. Mixing in a timely changeup with an assortment of other pitches, the State College of Florida signee had Charlotte (12-13) off balance most of the night.
"Basically, I was getting all my pitches over for a strike and I wasn't trying to do too much. I was trying to work the strike zone and let my defense do its job," Norton said. "Last year I didn't have good luck with them, but this year I kind of got revenge. Luckily we pulled this game out. Having a three-run lead (early) certainly helped."
Braden River jumped on Charlotte starter Dillon McDermott for two runs in the first. Justin Phillips opened the frame with a double, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a grounder to second by Ryan Dyson.
Dylan Lee then unloaded a towering home run that gave Norton the cushion he needed. The Pirates added a run in the third when Dyson and Myles Straw hit back-to-back singles and Dyson scored on an error.
Norton (4-7) seemed to get stronger as the game went on and struck out the side in the seventh around a single by McDermott.
"Brooks was awesome (Tuesday). He was spot on and his changeup was unbelievable again. His fastball had a little giddy up," Verrill said. "He had a cutter he threw for strikes and kept them off balance. We play Venice, and they haven't seen Tyler Pogue, who has been out with a broken back. He had a stress fracture in one of his vertebrae and was our number two pitcher coming into the season."
Braden River (12-14), which has 13 seniors on its roster, made the most of only five hits with all them coming from the top four in the Pirates batting order.
"You would like to see the season last as long as possible, but unfortunately Braden River got the best of us," Charlotte head coach Dan Flaherty said. "It's been up and down for us all season where we would get streaky and put some hits together and then our bats go cold; that's what we ran into tonight. Three hits tonight isn't going to get the job done."
Charlotte loses shortstop David Fetkenher and Mike Frick, who came into the game with a .304 batting average. The top returnees include leading hitters Brian Murphy (.343) and Nick Newman (.324), both juniors.
"We got a lot of juniors coming back who will now have a lot of experience. We had four seniors out there (Tuesday) starting. It was a good season," said Flaherty who finished his third season as the Tarpons head coach.
Braden River will visit top seed Venice at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Indians are 22-3 and ranked in the top 10 nationally in some polls and No. 3 in the state.