FALCONS 12 PIRATES 2 (5 Inn.)

LARGO – Dunedin rewrote the program’s history books last year by reaching the region finals four years in a row. The Falcons set up next year’s team to match another mark Thursday night by convincingly winning the Class 6A District 9 championship over Boca Ciega, 12-2 in five innings.

Dunedin is in the postseason for the fifth straight year and that’s the third such stretch of success in the program’s long, proud existence. Under the watch of former longtime coach and Dunedin alum Tom Hilbert, the Falcons went to the postseason six years in a row from 1999-2004 and five years in a row from 2006-2010.

After missing out on regional play his first year at the helm in 2014, current coach Ron Sexton has had his squad not only in the mix but prepared to make deep postseason runs.

“We’ve talked a lot about it; there’s a lot of work getting back there,” Sexton said after wrapping up the program’s third straight district championship. “All the conditioning, the regular season – it’s sweet to get back here and see them execute. But this group’s hungry to finish the job. While they’re happy to win the district their aspirations are beyond this and exist in Fort Myers. But I’m really proud of them because they know they can’t get there without this.”

Capturing that third straight league title meant beating the same school Dunedin seems to always face in the championship game – Boca Ciega. The Falcons beat Bogie 3-2 last year and 16-6 in 2017 but fell to the Pirates 3-2 in 2016.

Thursday night at Largo High School looked a lot more like 2017’s outcome.

Three batters into the game, Dunedin found itself trailing 1-0.

The hand-wringing didn’t last long.

The Falcons offense responded with three runs in the first and never looked back. Dunedin took full advantage of every opportunity given – three Bogie errors, six walks and a hit batter, stealing eight bases.

And after starting pitcher Dominic Baratta was spotted his lead in the home half of the first, he never let the Pirates regain any confidence. The senior southpaw responded to the shaky first inning by retiring 10 straight batters until the fifth. Isaiah Brandt’s leadoff comebacker in the final inning hit Baratta and resulted in a single. The starter stayed in the game but walked the next batter he faced and Sexton brought in junior Mitchell Mussler to finish things off.

Dunedin’s disruptiveness on the base paths helped speed up the game’s eventual outcome. No one did it better Thursday than shortstop Ray Sass. The shortstop scored Dunedin’s initial run by reaching base with a one-out single in the first and then proceeding to steal second, third and home. Sass finished his day 1-for-3 with the run scored, a walk and four of the Falcons’ eight swipes.

Fast-forward a few innings, fellow senior Chris Johnson pushed Dunedin’s lead past the 10-run, mercy-rule limit in the fourth with a two-out, two-run Little League inside-the-park home run. Needing just one run to push the lead to 11-1, Johnson’s two-out rip to left-center reached the fence and was mishandled, allowing him to race all the way around and put Dunedin up 12-1.

Johnson and sophomore Marcus Brodil both had two-hit days for the Falcons and senior Brock Cunningham drove in two runs.

Dunedin’s victory allows it to stay home for Wednesday’s region quarterfinal game against the winner of the District 6A-10 title game between Lake Wales (19-6) and Sebring (11-13). The teams split their season series, with Sebring winning the first, 4-0, and Lake Wales taking the second, 3-2.

BOX SCORE:

BC – 100 01x x --- 2-2-3

Dun – 323 4xx x --- 12-8-2

WP – Dominic Baratta

LP – Jacob Clutter

TOP PERFORMERS:

Boca Ciega (7-18)

Aidan Keane – 0-for-2, RBI

Jayden Douglas – 1-for-3, R

Isaiah Brandt – 1-for-2, R

Dunedin (19-8)

Chris Johnson – 2-for-3, 2B, 3 RBI, 2 R, SB

Dominic Baratta – Win 4.0 IP, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 4 K

Marcus Brodil – 2-for-2, RBI, 2 R, BB, SB

Brock Cunningham – 1-for-1, 3B, 2 RBI, 2 R, SB, HBP