The somber mood in St. Thomas More’s dugout, where players dejectedly collected their equipment, spoke volumes.
In the span of two pitches the Cougars lost a two-run lead and ultimately the game.
“We’ll learn from it as hard as it is,” STM senior second baseman Will Bellamy said. “We have freshmen out there competing very hard. We’ll grow a lot as a team, and we’ll see them again in the playoffs.”
St. Michael, which had lost in consecutive years to STM in the semifinal round of the playoffs, turned the tables with a three-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning for a 5-4 victory Tuesday over the Cougars.
Reliever Brennan Leger recorded the first out of the seventh before allowing a single and game-tying home run to Michael Smith.
The Warriors were down to their final out against reliever Connor Gary when left fielder Hayden Salles, who took a close call for ball three, drilled a full-count solo homer to center for the game-winning run.
“We had a chance to win, but hats off to them,” STM coach Gary Perkins said. “They were clutch in the seventh inning. I told the kids that I would have loved to have won.
“It’s not the first time we’ve ever lost in the bottom of the seventh.”
STM followed a familiar pattern on the mound, throwing a trio of freshmen with starter Adam Barousse going the first 4.2 innings. He left with a 4-2 lead.
Leger got out of jams in the fourth and sixth innings, stranding five runners but couldn’t escape the seventh without any damage.
Gary got a groundout for the second out in the seventh when Salles, who hadn’t gotten a ball out of the infield in two previous plate appearances. After fouling off two full-count pitches, Salles homered to center where a 15 mph wind was blowing out.
“Maybe next time down the road they’ll remember this day and the pitches they missed with,” Perkins said of his freshmen trio. “You can’t do anything but learn from this. It was a good ballgame.”
One that STM (5-6) didn’t trail until the game’s final pitch.
LSU signee Mason Templet was the catalyst in a 3-1 lead through three innings, singling three times with three runs scored.
Christian Leonard’s single drove in Templet for a 1-0 lead in the first and Bellamy unloaded a two-run homer — to center — on the first pitch from St. Michael starter Evan Becnel, who allowed seven hits and struck out seven in six innings.
Templet scored on Bellamy’s RBI-single to make it 4-2 in the fifth, but STM only had one more hit and went scoreless over the remaining 2.2 innings.
“It’s obvious we’re a young team,” Perkins said. “I don’t know how much we accomplished today other than locking up an ‘L.’
“We’ll come back and keep working, and hopefully by playoff time we’ll have it together.”