BRADENTON - After Bayshore High's Kenny Rice induced a 4-6-3 double play to stop Saint Stephen's seventh inning bases-loaded rally, Robert Hicks nearly sprinted out to the mound to be the first to thank Rice for his effort.
Hicks will go down as the winning pitcher of record, but he was well aware he benefitted from two major "saves" Tuesday night in the Bruins' 5-3 victory over the Falcons. Rice's save will go down on the stats sheet, but David Figueroa can't be quantified.
Baseball has a statistic for just about everything - except for defensive brilliance. But that's exactly what Figueroa contributed.
With Saint Stephen's trailing 3-0 in the third inning, Trevor Gagne blasted a ball deep to center field and seemingly out of reach of Figueroa. Bayshore has short fences, but then, Figueroa isn't all that tall.
He heard his teammates tell him to keep going back as he tracked the ball to his right. At the last second and just as he reached the fence near the 350 sign in center, Figueroa leaped and snagged the ball over the fence and brought it back.
Hicks let out a scream of approval. Even if the play won't show up in any linescore, the Bayshore pitcher's description says enough.
"That was the best play I've ever seen in a high school game," said Hicks, who allowed three runs on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings. "When he made that catch, it sounded like Yankee Stadium. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It was unbelievable."
Bayshore coach Charlie Smythers has been around a lot longer than Hicks. Smythers still couldn't disagree with Hicks' assessment.
"That was about as good as I've seen in high school baseball," Smythers said.
Figueroa said he could hear the crowd cheering his catch all the way out in deep center field. The applause almost made him forget the pain he felt in his right knee after banging it into the fence on the leap.
"It was the best catch I've ever made, for sure," said Figueroa, who also singled and scored two runs. "I saw the fence coming, and it took me out a little bit, but I kept my eye on the ball."
As Saint Stephen's rallied in the seventh, Figueroa's catch as well as an insurance home run from Bobby Martin (his sixth of the year) loomed even larger.
In the seventh, Gagne singled home a run to bring the Falcons within two runs and put the tying run on second base with the lead-off man, Ware Hart, up to bat.
Earlier in the game, Hart made an incredible diving snag to save a run, only to have it overshadowed by Figueroa. Hart had a chance again to steal the spotlight but grounded the ball sharply to second for the double play to end the game.
It's the kind of luck that has been the story of the Falcons' season. Well, that and four more errors.
"We've had the misfortune of playing bad against good teams," said Falcons coach Mike LaValliere, whose team fell to 4-5 despite outhitting the Bruins 7-6. "We can't get away with that."
Saint Stephen's 000 200 1 - 3 7 4
Bayshore 030 011 X - 5 6 0
WP - Robert Hicks. LP - Garrett Gregory. S - Kenny Rice. 3B - Korey Martin (B). HR - Bobby Martin (B). Team records: Saint Stephen's 4-5, Bayshore 6-1.