Hawks walk off again as Samuels delivers in bottom of seventh to put Viera into regional final

Viera's Liam Samuels (center) is about to get mobbed by teammates after driving in the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning Wednesday night at the USSSA Space Coast Complex. The Hawks defeated New Smyrna Beach 3-2 in the Class 6A, Region 2 semifinals and will play for a spot in the state final four on Saturday night at 7 against Bartow.

Two regional baseball playoff games.

Two walk-off victories.

The Viera Hawks certainly aren’t making it look easy, but they’re definitely making it look like fun.

“Just call them the Cardiac Kids,” Viera coach Bob Doty said.

Liam Samuels hit an 0-2 curveball into the gap in right-center field with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning, driving in pinch-runner Adriel Torres from second base with the winning run as the Hawks defeated New Smyrna Beach 3-2 Wednesday night in the Class 6A, Region 2 semifinals.

The victory puts Viera (19-6) into the regional finals against Bartow (20-11) in a game scheduled for 7 p.m. at the USSSA Space Coast Complex. Bartow defeated Winter Haven 9-5 in 11 innings in its semifinal matchup.

It will be Viera’s second regional final appearance in three years. The Hawks lost a heartbreaker in Tampa against Leto in 2019 and were poised to make run at the final four last year before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out their season.

Now, they’re going to get another shot.

“It feels great,” Samuels said. “Since Day One, our coach says no Viera team has ever won a regional final, so that’s always been a goal for us.”

The road to get there has certainly been challenging.

Viera beat St. Cloud 2-1 in the regional quarterfinals on a walk-off single by Alex Sosa in the bottom of the seventh. And Wednesday night, they faced another tough challenge from New Smyrna Beach, a team they had beaten three times already this season.

In none of those previous three games, however, had they faced Barracudas senior right-hander Liam Garvey.

“The kid (Garvey) really threw well for them,” Doty said. “We hadn’t seen him in three games. He was their No. 1 and he comes out and he really shuts us down.

“We had a couple of opportunities to score some runs and he (got tough). You’ve got hand it to that pitcher. He’s really tough.”

After having a runner thrown out at the plate in the first inning and making a major baserunning mistake in the third that took them out of a scoring opportunity, the Hawks finally broke through in the third.

Sosa singled to lead off the inning and went to third when Cole Teply doubled. Samuels then singled through a drawn-in infield to put Viera up 1-0.

The Hawks would score again when a swinging strike got away from New Smyrna’s catcher and allowed pinch-runner Robbie Behrens to score from third.

But that’s all the Hawks would get until the seventh as Garvey worked out of several jams and finished with eight strikeouts.

The Barracudas (16-9), meanwhile, got a run in the fourth on a sacrifice fly and then tied it on a triple that was drilled deep into right field in the fifth. New Smyrna Beach nearly caught a big break with two outs when a ground ball to second was bobbled, but Viera’s Zach Zulawski recovered in time to just get the runner at first base for the inning-ending out.

Despite those two runs, Viera got strong performances from three senior pitchers. Lefty David Rusnak started the game and was followed by Teply and Samuels.

“We’ve got the most experience and the coaches have trust in us,” Samuels said. “It’s our last year here, so they’re going to let us go out there and try to get the job done.”

All that brings us to the bottom of the seventh.

After Sosa drew a one-out walk, Teply singled. That brought Garvey to the 105-pitch count limit and the Barracudas were forced to bring in a reliever the Hawks had already seen twice before.

After taking a first pitch strike and fouling one off, Samuels was in pure see-ball, hit-ball mode.

“Two strikes, I’m just thinking stay as short as possible and make contact,” he said. “It’s not much simpler than that.”

The curveball came right down the middle and Samuels drove it into the gap, setting off yet another wild celebration.

“They just hang in and battle all the time,” Doty said. “They love playing. They love playing at home.

“With our schedule, all year long we’ve played some great clubs close. We haven’t won every game, but we’ve been in some tight situations just like this. You build some confidence when you think, ‘We’re right here. Bottom of the seventh. Let’s do it again.’”

The Hawks are now 5-2 in one-run games this season and have walked off with a victory at least four times, including their last two.

It’s exciting all right, and the Hawks are right where they want to be. But boy, the past few games definitely haven’t been for the faint of heart.

“It’s tough,” Samuels said. “But hey, that’s what you live for. You want to see those kinds of games.”