LAKELAND — Polk State Baseball fell to Palm Beach State on Friday evening, in an excruciating, 11-inning loss during the second round of the FCSAA/NJCAA Gulf District State Baseball Tournament at Lakeland's Joker Marchant Stadium.
Polk right-handed pitcher Brian Johnson valiantly defended on the mound, giving up just two hits to the Panthers through the top of the ninth. It was a fine follow-up to the previous day's pitching, when fellow righty Alec Asher came just one out shy of a complete-game shutout against Northwest Florida State.
With one out to go in the ninth — in a still-scoreless game — the Eagles sent in lefty Steven Burnham. Burnham walked his first Panther, loading the bases, and for the first moment of the evening there was tension in the air.
The Eagles got their collective sigh of relief, however, with a fly out to centerfield.
In the bottom of the ninth, things got even more interesting — and ultimately, heartbreaking.
Eagle second-baseman Conor Szczerba started things off right with a walk to first. He then advanced to second on Colt Hankamer's sacrifice bunt. Next up was Michael Danner, who took first on an intentional walk. Erik Hindmon followed and popped out.
Then came Matthew Singletary, who shot a single down the left-field line, giving the Eagles just the break they needed. Szczerba advanced to third and then headed for home.
His teammates rushed the field and those wearing black and red in the stands took to their feet, thrilled by the quick, neat victory.
But observant onlookers quickly noticed that Palm Beach was still playing, ignoring the erupting celebration. Szczerba had failed to touch home plate and, just as quickly as it had come, the Eagles' win was ripped from their grasp.
From that point on, momentum had clearly shifted from Polk to Palm Beach as the game moved into extra innings. The Panthers sealed the deal in the top of the 11th with a 4-run burst and preserved the shutout in the Eagles' final at-bar.
The Eagles will take the field again at 1 p.m. Saturday, facing off against Santa Fe College in an elimination game. Tickets are available at Joker Marchant Stadium; tournament passes are $25, day passes are $10. Fans may also watch the Eagles live at psblive.com.