FALCONS 6 WILDCATS 3

WESLEY CHAPEL – It didn’t appear to be Dunedin’s night Tuesday.

Down 3-0 heading into the seventh, the Falcons had managed just two hits against Wesley Chapel starter Zachary Showalter. No baserunners had advanced beyond second base through six innings and offensive threats were limited at best.

“We felt it coming,” Dunedin first baseman and pitcher Jessiah Branch said of the mood in the visiting dugout leading up to and during Tuesday’s game-changing seventh inning. “We felt like we had something going. This is our last time with our seniors and we didn’t want to give up.”

What Dunedin had going was a stunning comeback that included 11 at bats, three defensive mishaps, a bases-loaded balk, three walks, two base hits and, most importantly, six runs.

Momentum began to build in the Falcons dugout when Dylan Oester’s fly ball down the left-field line was misjudged, allowing Noah Bukolt to score from second and get Dunedin on the board. Two batters later, with one out and two on, Bryan Loos’ liner up the middle scored Bryce Talley, cutting Wesley Chapel’s lead to 3-2.

After a walk loaded the bases, Showalter was replaced on the mound by the Wildcats’ leader in innings pitched this season, Ethan Chana. Before Chana could throw a pitch, however, the home plate umpire stopped play, ruling that the junior balked. This allowed Oester to touch home and tie the game at three.

Two more fielding mishaps during Dunedin’s final four at bats of the frame allowed the next three runs to score, making it 6-3 Falcons and leaving Wesley Chapel now trailing by three with three outs remaining.

Wildcats senior Tyler Sullivan got things going in the home half of the seventh with a one-out base hit, but before much excitement could build Dunedin was turning its fourth and final double play of the night to end the game. Leadoff hitter Zachary Bice shot a liner back to the mound, but Branch, pitching his third inning of relief, snagged it out of the air and tossed to first to double up Sullivan.

“I saw him choking up so I tried throwing outside, but I left it in a little bit,” Branch said. “He hit a line drive to me and I just stuck the glove out as a reaction and got the double play.”

Wesley Chapel struck first in the fourth, breaking a scoreless tie with Bradley D'Agostino drew a bases-loaded walk. Sparking the inning was Austin Coultas' one-out double in the left-center gap. The senior provided an even bigger jolt one frame later with a two-run homer to left that extended the Wildcats' lead to 3-0.

Coulter, Sean Esquinaldo and Sullivan had two-hit nights for Wesley Chapel.

The win sends Dunedin to its sixth straight appearance in the region finals, dating back to 2015. There was no postseason play for spring high school athletics last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, the Falcons nearly won their third state championship in program history before falling 4-3 to Jesuit.

Dunedin’s five previous trips to the region finals or beyond were accomplished with Ron Sexton as head coach. Sexton began the 2021 season leading the Falcons before being dismissed in relation to a spring break trip the team took to play in a tournament in Sanford.

“Our team loved Coach Ron, so we’re just doing it for him,” Branch said.

The Falcons, winners of seven straight, advance to play Cape Coral Mariner in the Region 4A-3 final at 7 p.m., Wednesday, May 19. Mariner, the winner of District 4A-12, will host because of bracket positioning. The Tritons beat Englewood Lemon Bay 6-3 Tuesday night.

BOX SCORE:

Dun – 000 000 6 --- 6-4-2

WC – 000 120 0 --- 3-7-3

WP – Jessiah Branch

LP – Zachary Showalter

TOP PERFORMERS:

Dunedin (17-11)

Jessiah Branch – 2-for-2, 4 RBI, 2 R, HR, 2B, 3 BB

Trey Beard – 1-for-2, 3 RBI, 2 R, HR, BB, 2 IBB – 3.0 IP, 4 R, 1 ER, 4 H, 3 K, BB

Bryan Loos – 1-for-3, RBI, R

Wesley Chapel (19-7)

Austin Coultas – 2-for-3, 2 RBI, 2 R, HR, 2B

Sean Esquinaldo – 2-for-3, R

Zachary Showalter – Loss, 6.1 IP, 5 R, 2 ER, 4 H, 5 K, 4 BB