Hawks can’t hold lead, Leto rallies to win regional final


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Viera senior Andrew "Bammer" Brait scoops up a hard grounder early in Wednesday's Class 7A regional final against Tampa Leto. The Hawks had a 2-0 lead, but Leto rallied late to win the game 3-2.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

TAMPA – It all fell apart so quickly.

One minute, the Viera Hawks had a 2-0 lead and it looked like their dreams of making what would be their first trip ever to the FHSAA state baseball final four were about to come true.

The next minute … well, it seemed like a minute … they were packing up their gear and heading for the bus. Their season was over. And for the seniors, there was no mistaking it:

Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Tampa Leto in the Class 7A regional final is going to sting for a while.

“It was one of those shockers,” Viera coach Bob Doty said. “It was like one of those last-second shots in a basketball game.

“… That is as tough a loss as we’ve ever had. This one hurts.”

The Leto Falcons deserve all the credit in the world for rallying in the fifth and sixth innings to beat Viera.

What will haunt the Hawks is all the opportunities they didn’t take advantage of.

Viera led off the game by getting seniors Connor Leary and Andrew “Bammer” Brait on base with no outs, but didn’t score. They got another runner to second the next inning, but didn’t score.

And even when the Hawks scored two runs in the top of the third to take the lead, they left the bases loaded.

While he Hawks couldn’t get the big hit, starting pitcher Eric Allen was cruising through the first four innings.

When Leto cut the lead in half by scoring a run in the bottom of the fifth, Viera answered by loading the bases in the top of the sixth with only one out. But back-to-back strikeouts ended the threat.

Finally, in the bottom of the sixth, Leto got things started with a lead-off double. With two runners on, Viera got a fly ball to left field. Leto’s runner tagged up and tried to score.

It looked like the throw was going to beat the runner, but instead, it hit off his shoulder and bounced away. With the potential go-ahead run heading for third, a Viera player tried to throw him out, but the ball went into left field instead and Leto suddenly had a 3-2 lead.

The Hawks got a runner on with two out in the seventh, but an infield grounder ended the game.

Alan Espinal had three hits, including a double, and an RBI to lead Viera. Brait had two hits, two walks and scored a run. Leary had a hit and scored a run. Declan McDermott had a hit and an RBI.

Zach Taylor, Luke Brown and JT Smith all had hits. Brown also walked twice.

Allen allowed just three hits, struck out five, and all three runs he gave up were unearned.

“I told them we had a great year,” Doty said. “That’s a tough loss. We’re (2-1) into the sixth. That’s our game to win. The baseball gods were not on our side that inning.

“It’s just one of those things. We were up the other night, winning that game (Saturday) night against a tough Melbourne team (in the regional semifinal). This team (Leto) was in the final four last year and they’re a bunch of scrappy players.

“They did the job. It’s tough to win on the road. Our guys did a good job and we had a great year.”

Wednesday marked the final high school game for seniors Leary, Brait, Allen, Brown, Brady Janssen, Joe Veltri and Carson Janssen.

As a class, they won 83 games. And for players like Brait and Leary – who have played on the same team since they were 10 years old – it certainly marked the end of an era.

“I have no words,” Leary said.

Doty said there is no doubt the Hawks are going to miss their seniors.

“All the seniors did an outstanding job and they all year long,” Doty said. “It’s hard. It’s going to be a long trip home. Twenty minutes ago, I was thinking we were going to be celebrating going home and we were going to be going to Fort Myers (for the final four).”

As hard as it will be to see the seniors go, the Hawks have still got some talent coming back and will be looking to make a run at their third regional final and, perhaps, their first trip to the final four.

“Our guys played so hard, and they learned a lot,” Doty said. “I would say probably next year we’re going to be pretty good again.”