Hawks beat Melbourne in nine drama-filled innings to reach regional final
Brait’s hit, Moser’s dramatic strikeout lift Viera to 2-1 win
Viera players celebrate their 2-1, nine-inning victory over Melbourne in the Class 7A regional semifinals Friday night. Viera advances to the regional final Wednesday night at Tampa Leto.
VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala
The game was over. The team meeting was over.
And as the players on the Viera High baseball team started to head toward their dugout to grab their gear, Bill Moser had to make a detour toward home plate to pick up his glove.
Because that’s where he’d thrown it when the celebration started.
In one of the most dramatic finishes imaginable, the Viera Hawks beat the Melbourne Bulldogs 2-1 in nine innings Saturday night to advance to the Class 7A regional final Wednesday night at Tampa Leto (22-6).
Moser, who came on in the eighth inning of Saturday’s regional semifinal after a brilliant performance by starter Tyler Madl, faced a pitcher’s ultimate dream scenario in the bottom of the ninth.
Andrew “Bammer” Brait’s RBI single had given the Hawks a 2-1 lead in the top half of the inning. But here it was … bases loaded, two outs and a 3-2 count on the batter. Oh, and let’s not forget, it was also on the road against Viera’s biggest rival.
The pitch came in … the bat never moved … strike three. Game over.
“That was nerve-wracking,” a smiling Moser said.
By beating Melbourne (20-8), the Hawks (21-8) got a little bit of revenge on the Bulldogs in their fourth meeting of the year.
Viera won the District 6 championship last year, only to have Melbourne come back and win the regional semifinal matchup. This season, it was the Bulldogs who won the district title only to have the Hawks turn the tables in the regional semis.
To do it, they needed big performances from a number of people.
Madl went seven innings, allowing just three hits and one unearned run. He struck out two and walked three. Moser, meanwhile, struck out five, walked two and did not give up a hit in his two innings.
Defensively, Viera second baseman Edian Espinal made two spectacular catches. He also singled and scored the go-ahead run.
Declan McDermott helped turn the entire game around in the sixth inning, delivering a solo home run over the left-field fence to tie the game at 1-1. He also made two nice catches from his left-field spot.
Connor Leary had three hits. Luke Brown made a nice, running catch in right field to end an inning. Catcher Alan Espinal was strong behind the plate and even picked off a runner at first.
In short, it took everything the Hawks had to get past a Melbourne team that also played solid defense and got some solid pitching when it needed it most.
“That was probably one of our biggest wins for the program,” Viera coach Bob Doty said. “Any time you beat those guys, it’s always a special win anyway. They’re always a good ballclub. We see them a lot. I guess it’s our turn to win this time.”
The victory, Doty’s 150th as head coach of the Hawks, came in the fourth meeting between the two teams this season. Each team won two games in the series.
“We talked to our pitchers … we knew if we could keep the game close, we had a chance,” Doty said. “(Melbourne) has the potential to bust it open with their hitters, but boy, Tyler Madl was just on top of his game.
“He kept them (off-balance) with his changeup and his curveball. They’re notorious dead red, fastball hitters. Tyler was just awesome tonight. He really picked us up.”
As well as Madl was pitching, though, it looked like Melbourne’s one-run lead might stand up as the Hawks weren’t able to put together anything on offense.
That is, until McDermott got hold of one in the top of the sixth, prompting one of his teammates in the dugout to yell, “That’s outta here!”
McDermott’s home run seemed to give Viera more energy and threatened again in the seventh inning. However, Viera failed to properly execute a safety squeeze and wound up leaving the bases loaded.
Then came the top of the ninth.
Edian Espinal singled, went to second on a sacrifice bunt by JT Smith and took third when Leary was safe on a wide throw to first. That brought up Brait, who lined a clean single for the go-ahead run.
“It was a first-pitch fastball,” Brait said. “I knew he was coming with it. The entire game, I was just watching that first-pitch fastball. I just jumped on it that time.”
The Hawks took their 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth, where the drama featured two walks, a throw to third that nearly got away and two arguments between a Melbourne coach and the home plate umpire over balls and strikes that finally led to an ejection.
That all led to the bases loaded, two out, 3-2 pitch that ended what was easily one of the best games played in Brevard County this season.
It was also an example of what kind of team the Hawks feel like they have. Brait said this year’s Viera club is one of the most resilient he’s ever played on.
Now, Viera is one win away from reaching the state final four for the first time in program history. But they’re going to have to overcome what figures to be a very tough Tampa Leto team to get there.
“We’re just relentless,” Moser said. “We don’t stop. We’re a fighting team, for sure. We’re a good bet to pick to go to states.”