Calvary Christian made Pinellas County high school baseball history by winning its Class 4A semifinal May 24 in Fort Myers.
Not only did the win avenge last year’s state title game defeat to Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian Academy, it allowed the Warriors to compete for their third championship in as many years – something no other program on the peninsula can stake claim to.
Calvary added to the impressiveness one day later.
In walk-off fashion, the Warriors beat Delray Beach American Heritage 2-1 and captured the championship trophy for the second time in three years. Tied 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh, sophomore Charles Stevens sent a ground ball to short that allowed junior Peter Stavrakos to race home from third and score with a head-first slide and set off a bench-clearing celebration.
While a couple Pinellas programs have come close to winning a pair of titles in three years, no one ever reached three straight championship games. Clearwater Central Catholic won the 2002 Class 2A championship and finished in second in 2003, Shorecrest Prep placed second in Class A in 1983 and won it all in 1984, and Dunedin took second in Class A in 1963 before winning its first state championship in 1964.
Speaking of Dunedin, the Falcons made the trip to Fort Myers last weekend as Pinellas County’s second state representative and nearly earned the program’s third championship. The Falcons dropped Lynn Haven Mosley 7-4 in the semifinal to set up an all-Tampa Bay area meeting with Tampa Jesuit. Dunedin jumped out to a quick 1-0 first-inning lead, but a late comeback fell just short and Jesuit prevailed 4-3.
The Falcons were at states for the second time in three years. Their 2017 run ended with a 7-0 loss to Jesuit in the semifinals. While last weekend’s result was tough to swallow for the Falcons, both senior classes at Dunedin and Calvary get to leave knowing their years with the programs were some of the best in each school’s history.
In addition to the pair of trips to states, Dunedin extended its run of region finals appearances to five years.
As for Calvary, Coach Greg Olsen praised the careers of his eight-member senior class for continuing the Warriors’ recent success.
“What happened this year, Christian Cairo, Josh Emerson and Nolan Hudi were our captains and those guys were outstanding leaders,” Olsen said over the phone. “They’re people that I trust in general. I look to them for the pulse of the team so to speak. Their leadership was important all year and something that us as a coaching staff leaned on.
“What we’ve had with Christian and Josh and Braden (Halladay) and Nolan, we had really, really high character seniors and talented kids,” Olsen added. “These guys are going to major universities to play college baseball. I wouldn’t want to sell them short on the baseball end at all but as far as who they are as people and leaders for our team, they were huge.”
Reaching the state semifinals is never something the team takes for granted, but Olsen said his team went to Fort Myers confident it could replicate 2017’s championship win.
“I think that we all went in confident that we could win,” Olsen said. “Going to Fort Myers, we talked as a team that there were four teams in our classification that all had a good chance to win, but we were confident that if we played well we had a good chance.”
The Warriors have Division I talent all over the field and they got a full, team effort at states. Six players combined to total nine hits over the two-game stretch, led by junior Pierce Chambers’ three hits and sophomore Tommy White’s two. Both of White’s hits went for two bases.
The work Calvary got from the mound was even better. Hudi and Emerson tangled with a couple of Class 4A’s other top teams and limited Calvary Christian Academy and American Heritage to one run each.
Hudi went the distance during the Warriors’ 3-1 win over Calvary Christian Academy, avenging last year’s 5-1 Class 4A state title game defeat. Hudi surrendered just one run and struck out six while scattering five hits and a walk.
“Nolan’s high school career has been second to none,” Olsen said of the TCU commit. “Our guys just know when he is on the mound we have a good chance to win the game. You could put him up against anyone; it didn’t really matter to me.”
Emerson stepped up in the title game against American Heritage by recording 20 of 21 outs. The senior was lights out, giving up one run on just three hits and a walk and striking out seven.
The win allowed Calvary to finish the 2019 state title campaign with a 26-4 overall record. During the Warriors’ three-year postseason run, they own a combined record of 86-5 that includes their record-setting streak of 60 straight wins from 2017-18.