LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Sometimes the worst of things can turn into the best of things.
That's certainly true for the Lakewood Ranch baseball team (23-7), which earned a trip to the state final four Friday with a 4-1 victory over visiting Winter Haven in the Class 6A-Region 3 championship game.
Seth McGarry went the distance and shut down the Blue Devils (17-11) for his first complete game after being relegated to hitting nearly all season because of a sore elbow.
The senior right-hander used that time wisely and came into the playoffs well-rested with an extra sense of motivation. He improved his record to 2-0.
"I feel like the injury really played out to an advantage because I was able to relax and kind of get back to where I should be, and I am coming back at the right time," McGarry said. "The first two-thirds of the season I just was a DH, and
then I slowly got to first base and second base and then I got back to playing shortstop and three games after that I finished my throwing program and was on the mound. I knew I was starting tonight."
The Mustangs will make their second state tournament appearance in school history Thursday when they play Archbishop Edward McCarthy at Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie. The 6A state championship game is May 18.
McGarry is grateful he was able to return just before the playoffs, but said he is indebted to catcher Tyler Dauphinee, who gave the hurler all the runs he needed with a bases-clearing double with the bags full in the first inning. The Mustangs' other run came on a solo homer from Bryan VanVranken in the sixth, his second round-tripper of the season.
McGarry opened the first inning with a single, went to second on a wild pitch and stole third. He was picked off third, but three walks loaded the bases for Dauphinee, who is more known for his defense and ability to call pitches.
"That double was huge after I made a big mistake and got picked off. He just picked up the slack for me," McGarry said. "I pushed off (the base) too early. I was going to try and take the throw in the back, but I was too far off the base."
McGarry might have been thinking about a game he went to as a starry-eyed 9-year-old when he watched the 2003 Lakewood Ranch baseball team in the playoffs and saw Lastings Milledge steal home to help win a crucial game on the way to a state championship.
"I remember coming from Little League practice with my dad going to a (playoff) game, and there was an accident. Lastings Milledge's dad was a cop and he got us out of there pretty quick," McGarry said. "I'll never forget Lastings stealing home; it was insane."
Winter Haven couldn't be blamed if it thought McGarry's pitching was a little insane. He had the Blue Devils off stride all night and got stronger as the game went on, getting three strikeouts in the sixth and allowing only a bunt single over the final three innings.
McGarry allowed two hits and two walks while striking out nine. Winter Haven's only run came in the third on a wild pitch that was set up by two walks and an error.
"On that wild pitch, I accidentally threw a cutter, but after we got out of that I knew it was going to be a good night," McGarry said.
It's the first trip to the state tournament for Mike Mullen in his fifth year as a head coach. He purposely kept McGarry on the sidelines, waiting for him to heal and hoping he would peak at the right time.
"Every high school coach's dream is to take his kids to the final four. I thought to myself last year we would probably win the state championship, but it didn't work out," Mullen said. "Without a doubt we were going to start McGarry tonight. You go with your best in the biggest games, and he threw only nine pitches" to get the save in the region semifinal on Tuesday.
Mullen couldn't have been happier for Dauphinee, who has been a defensive stalwart all season.
"I thought we were going to bail them out in the first inning, but we wound up getting a clutch hit by Tyler," Mullin said. "Tyler deserves a lot of credit for this win with his three RBIs and for calling the game the way he did. I let him call his own game because he and Seth have been working together forever."
It was only the third double of the year for Dauphinee, who came into the game with 14 RBIs and a .325 batting average. McGarry had two hits for Lakewood Ranch.