Oh what a feeling … Hawks win district title with big fifth-inning rally

The Viera High baseball team celebrates after defeating New Smyrna Beach 9-4 in the Class 6A, District 5 championship game at the USSSA Space Coast Complex Thursday night. Viera trailed 4-1 going into the bottom of the fifth inning, but scored six runs and then added two more in the sixth to secure the victory.

It was a crazy night at the USSSA Space Coast Complex.

But when it was all said and done, the Viera Hawks are your Class 6A, District 5 baseball champions.

Trailing 4-0 after the top of the first inning and coming up short in several big scoring situations early on, the Hawks broke through with eight runs in their final two at-bats to overtake the New Smyrna Beach Barracudas and win the game 9-4.

“It’s big,” Viera senior Liam Samuels said. “I’ve worked all four years to try to get one of these again.

“We got it my freshman year, but we haven’t had one of these in a while. It’s a great feeling.”

Viera (17-6) was one out away from finishing off the victory in the top of the seventh inning when the lights went out at the stadium and forced a delay of 20 minutes before play could resume.

But nothing was going to get in the way of the Hawks celebrating the district title they worked so hard to get.

Sophomore Lucas Glendinning had the big hit of the night for Viera, a two-run single in the fifth inning that put the Hawks up 6-4. Moments earlier, another sophomore -- Luke Campbell -- drove in the game-tying run by beating out an infield single with the bases loaded.

Both hits came with two strikes and two outs.

But that was just part of the story for the Hawks, who got a strong play from their seniors throughout the night, one huge defensive play by junior shortstop Edian Espinal to end a New Smyrna Beach scoring threat, and clutch play throughout the contest.

“This club is a unique club,” Viera coach Bob Doty said. “It’s a little different than some of the clubs we’ve had in the past. We’ve got that good senior leadership up top and we’ve got that young mix in there, sophomores that really do a good job. They’ve played a lot this year.

“We’ve basically played such a tough schedule; we’ve put these kids in pressure spots and you can tell they’ve gained that valuable experience.”

The game certainly got off to a rough start for Viera as New Smyrna Beach jumped on Glendinning for four runs (two earned) on three hits and a Viera error in the top of the first.

Three straight walks to Espinal, Alex Sosa and Cole Teply loaded the bases for the Hawks in the bottom of the first, but a sacrifice fly by Samuels was all Viera would get.

The Hawks would load the bases again in the second inning with no outs, but once again came up empty.

“We kept getting opportunities,” Samuels said. “It just wasn’t happening. But I knew if we just kept our foot on the gas that it was going to come through for us.”

It finally happened in the fifth when, with one out, Espinal, Sosa and Teply all drew walks to load the bases for the third time in the game.

New Smyrna Beach (15-8) would make a pitching change, but Samuels walked on four pitches to bring home a run and it was 4-2. Senior Jake Vermeire then walked on a 3-2 pitch and it was 4-3.

That’s when Campbell hit a slow, two-out grounder to third that he beat out to tie things up and bring Glendinning to the plate. And with two strikes on him, the sophomore came through.

“They were consistently throwing me low fastballs all game,” Glendinning said. “It was two strikes. I kept getting that and I kept taking it. I saw it and I was like, ‘OK, they’re going to throw me it again. They’ve been throwing it all game.’

“I saw it and barreled it right back up the middle. Luckily enough, it got through.”

It was a huge moment for Glendinning, one of Viera’s top starting pitchers who admittedly wasn’t at his best for the Hawks in his one and only inning on the mound. He was looking for a chance to redeem himself.

“After that first inning, I went to third (base) and I was looking for that opportunity to make up for it and get the boys back on top after I felt like I let them down,” he said. “I got the opportunity. It was a tie game, bases loaded, and I got that knock. It felt great. It felt like I got the boys back.”

Viera would get one more run with the help of a New Smyrna Beach error to make it a 7-4 game, but the Barracudas weren’t going away.

New Smyrna Beach put runners on first and third with one out in the top of the sixth when a ground ball was hit to Teply at first. The senior kept eyeing the runners as he headed toward the bag to make the out, then tried to pick the runner off at second.

At that moment, the runner on third broke for home and Espinal made a heads up play by firing the ball to the plate where Sosa applied the tag to complete the inning-ending double play.

“The first-and-third double play was one of the best plays that I’ve seen for a while,” Doty said. “Edian made that play with his arm. … You never have to worry about that kid.”

Campbell’s two-run single in the sixth extended the Hawks’ lead to 9-4.

Meanwhile, on the mound, Viera got strong performances from senior David Rusnak, sophomore Ryan Lewis and Samuels, who closed it out. Together, the three pitchers allowed just one hit over the final six innings.

Campbell finished the game with two hits and three RBIs. Samuels had a hit and two RBIs. Vermeire scored twice and drove in a run. Espinal also scored twice. Glendinning had a hit and two RBIs. Ben Schleeper also had a hit for the Hawks.

Viera drew 10 walks in the game.

It was the second time in the district tournament the Hawks came on late to post a big win. Viera scored 10 runs in the final three innings to beat East River in the semifinals.

“It means the world,” Glendinning said about winning the district title.

“First one at Viera High School because last year, we had COVID (that shut down the season). I’m excited. I’m excited for what this team can do in the future. We’ve got a good, young core.

“I love these boys. They’re my brothers. I’ve always got their back and I feel like they’ve got mine.”

Viera is scheduled to host St. Cloud next Friday in the regional quarterfinals at 7 p.m. at the USSSA Space Coast Complex.

Two years ago, the last time the state playoffs were held, the Hawks reached the regional final and had to play three straight road games. This time, they get to start what they’re hoping will be a journey that leads them to the final four with a home game.

“This is where we want to be,” Doty said. “… I like the way the seniors have taken the bull by the horns and winning this thing. This is what they do. This is their moment to shine.

“We knew win or lose we were going to go on. But it’s a whole lot better if we’re home. We play well at home. That’s a perfect example right there.”