Gerry Brown's pinch-hit single sent the Warriors to a 4-3 victory in the District 9A-3 Semifinals — and the program's first playoff appearance since 2012.
LAKE BUTLER When the emotional roller coaster of the seventh inning finally came to a halt Wednesday afternoon, the West Orange Warriors had survived an upset-bid by the Olympia Titans and — with their 4-3 walk-off victory in the semifinals of the District 9A-3 Tournament — had secured the program's first playoff berth since 2012.
Leading 2-1 going into the top half of the final inning, the Warriors (23-2) saw their dream season begin to slip away as a single by Olympia's Jackson Campbell brought in two runs to put the Titans ahead.
In the bottom half of the inning, Bobby Head and Nate Schreckengost reached base on walks. With one out, Ethan Jones doubled in the tying run. With two outs, pinch-hitter Gerry Brown singled in the winning run and was mobbed by his teammates as the game — and West Orange's playoff drought — came to an end.
"When we gave up the runs it was tough, but our guys have fought all season when we've been down," Jones said. "I knew we had it once we got the first guy on."
Brown, a junior who is not an everyday starter for the Warriors, continued a trend of his that has included clutch pinch-hit at-bats against The First Academy, Ocoee and others — though he acknowledged this one is easily the most memorable.
"I knew what was on the line ... I just stuck to the same approach and hoped good things would happen," Brown said.
West Orange head coach Jesse Marlo has said that Brown would be a starter for most other varsity teams in the area and that his willingness to be a role player says a lot about him and the team.
"Honestly, I think that's what makes this team great — guys know their roles," Marlo said. "We've just really stressed that if everybody plays their roles, this team could go as far as it wants to."
Tyler Baum got the start for the Warriors, allowing three runs in 6 1/3 innings of work.
The Warriors swept through district play in the regular season, earning the tournament's top seed, and are ranked in the top-25 nationally by a number of polls. In the regular season, West Orange had beat the Titans in the teams' two meetings by a combined score of 14-2.
None of that seemed to matter on Wednesday, though, as Olympia starter Aaron Bogovic pitched well in six innings of work.
The Titans concluded the 2016 campaign with a record of 14-13.
West Orange will take on Apopka at 4:30 p.m. Friday in the District 9A-3 Championship, with the outcome determining whom will have homefield advantage for the regional quarterfinals of the Class 9A State Playoffs, which begin next week.
For a roster with no playoff experience, Marlo is hopeful that Wednesday's pressure-packed, win-or-go-home win properly indoctrinated his ballclub for what's in store in the coming days.
"I feel like it takes a lot of pressure off of our back," Marlo said. "I felt the pressure myself going into this game, not being there (in the playoffs). ... I told them after the game that the monkey is off our back now — it's time to go have some fun."
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].
The Observer has invested in new technology, so you can enjoy a more personalized online experience. By creating a user profile on OrangeObserver.com, you can manage settings, customize content, enter contests and more, all while continuing to enjoy all the local news you care about — Click Here it's FREE.