The Panthers went from being down to their final out to upsetting top-seeded Cypress Creek in the semifinals of the District 9A-4 Tournament Wednesday afternoon — earning a playoff berth in the process.
With his team trailing Cypress Creek by two runs and down to its last out in the district semifinals Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Phillips baseball coach Mike Bradley wondered aloud whether his boys had a little magic in them.
Did they ever.
First, Raymond Negron delivered the hit of the season when he drove a triple to the gap in left-center field, driving in both runners that had been on base to tie the game at 3-3.
That season-saving hit eventually led to extra-innings where, after a scoreless eighth inning, senior Hamzah Nobles doubled down the third-base line to drive in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth.
After Brandon Fields drove in one more run for Dr. Phillips on an infield single, relief pitcher Logan Bryan retired the Bears on nine consecutive strikes in the bottom-half of the inning to seal a remarkable, improbable 5-3 victory that launched the Panthers into Friday's district final — and next week's regional playoffs.
Afterward, Bradley chalked up the miraculous turn of events to a little home-field advantage (though the Panthers were visitors on the scoreboard, the 9A-4 Tournament was hosted at Dr. Phillips).
"There's just something special about playing on this field — there is so much tradition and so many games that have gone Dr. Phillips' way," Bradley said. "This is just another one to add to the legacy of John Barbati Field. ... This is one of the top one's for me — we needed a little magic there."
August Haymaker homered for Dr. Phillips (15-12) in the top of the fourth inning to get the Panthers on the board, but after that the bats went silent until the seventh. There, a single by Sebastian Oetterer and a walk to Diego Garcia-Chirinos set up the two-out heroics by Negron.
"I just wanted to do it for my team — when I hit it, it felt so good," Negron recalled. "I've never been in a game like this in all of my three years of high school (baseball)."
Cort Roedig had started the game for the Panthers, allowing three runs over five innings of work, and was relieved by Bryan. Though Bryan struggled with walks in the bottom of the sixth, he got himself out of that particular jam and from then on was lights out.
In total, the reliever for Dr. Phillips pitched four innings without allowing a hit and struck out six batters — including all three batters during the final at-bat for Cypress Creek.
"I always feel amazing when I'm out there and Coach trusts me — I love Coach Bradley and all the coaches here," Bryan said. "I know they're going to give me the rock in the important times and it means a lot to me."
The win for Dr. Phillips came after having been swept by Cypress Creek (22-5) during the regular season. Now, the Panthers — who were seeded fifth entering the district tournament — will prepare to face the No. 2-seed Boone Braves at 4:30 p.m. Friday in the district final.
For tonight, though, the program's veteran coach was content to let his players enjoy a victory they may never forget.
"You've got to give it to the kids," Bradley said. "They stepped up and they never gave up."