The Viera Hawks turned what had been a close game into a walk-off, mercy-rule victory in the Class 6A, District 5 baseball semifinals Tuesday night at the USSSA Space Coast Complex.
Viera scored nine runs in the final two innings, 10 in the final three, on the way to an 11-1 win over East River that ended on a bases-loaded walk to Logan Keith in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The victory puts the Hawks (16-6) into Thursday’s championship game against New Smyrna Beach (15-7), which beat Melbourne 2-0 in Tuesday’s other semifinal.
The title game is scheduled for 7 p.m., once again at the USSSA Space Coast Complex.
Sophomore Alex Sosa went 2-for-3 with a double for Viera. Senior Liam Samuels also went 2-for-3 and drove in the game’s first run.
Sophomore Lucas Glendinning had two hits and two RBIs. Sophomore Logan Keith also had two hits – including a double – to go with two RBIs.
Senior Ben Schleeper also drove in two runs. Senior Jake Vermeire scored three times.
On the mound, senior Cole Teply went six innings and allowed one run on just two hits. He struck out eight.
Viera has now scored 11 or more runs in each of its last three games.
“(We’ve been playing) fantastic,” Vermeire said. “The last three games, we’ve hit phenomenal. Everyone’s bats are hot. The bottom of the lineup, they’ve really shown improvement – Schleeper, (Luke) Campbell, LG (Glendinning) and Logan. Those guys, it’s like top to bottom we’re stacked.
“I feel really confident in this team.”
The Hawks also got some strong defense from Espinal at shortstop and a great hustle play from Vermeire on the bases to help break open the game in the later innings.
Viera coach Bob Doty said he was impressed with East River and in particular, senior right-handed starter Lex Sanchez.
“They’re well-coached and they had a really good scouting report on us early,” Doty said. “They stuck to their game plan and that right-handed pitcher was really good for them. They kept him in there as long as they could go with him.
“Our guys were always were in the game, and we’re at home. That’s special because we feel like we have an advantage here, obviously, being the home team and playing on the turf.”
Viera got off to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Espinal singled, went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Sosa and eventually scored on a single by Samuels.
However, East River would tie things up in the top of the third despite Espinal’s tremendous defensive effort. The Falcons (10-13) sent a runner from second on what looked like a hit-and-run play. Espinal made a diving stop on a ball in the hole at short, but couldn’t get up in time to make a throw home and the game was tied 1-1.
Espinal would make another big defensive play in the top of the fourth, racing into foul territory to make a sliding catch, a play Doty believed was the turning point of the game.
“That was an incredible play,” Doty said. “He’s had a lot of those this year. It really kind of got us kind of fired up. We were kind of stuck there in a tight game. Everybody just kind of (fed off that).”
Viera would take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth thanks in large part to the hustle of Vermeire.
The senior centerfielder hit an infield dribbler, but raced up the first base line to beat the throw and then went all the way to third base when the ball got away.
“I saw there was nobody near that ball and I was like, ‘three. Automatic,’” Vermeire said. “I was flying. That was some of the fastest I’ve ever ran. My legs were feeling good tonight.”
A sacrifice fly by Schleeper scored Vermeire to put the Hawks back in front.
Viera then broke the game open in the bottom of the fifth and, once again, it was Vermeire helping to get things started with a safety squeeze bunt that scored pinch-runner Adriel Torres to make it 3-1.
The Hawks would make it a three-run game when another pinch runner, Cole Smith, scored on a wild pitch. A two-run single by Glendinning – on a 3-2 pitch with two outs – broke the game open. Keith then singled off the third baseman’s glove to make it 7-1 after five innings.
Four more runs would score in the bottom of the sixth and the game was over.
Speaking about Vermeire’s first-to-third play in the fourth inning, Doty said, “That’s the senior in him. He knows this is his moment. This is his time to shine. We want to go as long as we can with this club. We keep telling them, we’re 5-6 games away from doing something no Viera team has ever done.
“We’ve gotten to the final of the regionals a couple of times and fell a little short. Our goal is, obviously, to win this next game and then win the next game.
“But our (No. 1) goal is to get to the final four if we can.”
Given the way the Hawks have played the past few weeks, they’re certainly capable of making a good run at history.
“Hopefully, we can make it far this year,” Vermeire said. “We’ve played excellent ball all year. I just feel like we’re closer as a team than we’ve ever been. We’re all best friends. We talk every day.