Crusaders’ clash: Tampa Catholic downs Seffner Christian, 4-2

Seffner Christian’s Juelz Sidoti has nowhere to go except into Tampa Catholic catcher Ethan Frame’s tag for a fifth-inning out.

By Chuck Frye, Senior Staff Writer

TAMPA – The goal of putting together a rugged regular season schedule usually is to prepare a team for the tougher competition that lies ahead come playoff time. But as Tampa Catholic and Seffner Christian found out on Friday night, tough games can also provide an opportunity for teams to triumph over adversity.

And there was plenty of adversity on Friday, most of it self-generated in the match-up of Crusaders. The teams combined for eight errors, eight walks and three hit batters. Although Seffner Christian showed grit via late game production, it also lacked the one timely hit that could have made all the difference – as it did for Tampa Catholic in a 4-2 victory, where all of the runs scored were unearned.

After forcing Seffner’s Cyrus Shokrani (22), Tampa Catholic shortstop Carson Arnold rifles to first looking to complete a sixth-inning double play. However, the play was negated due to catcher’s interference.

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“We made a lot of routine mistakes and we’re better than that,” said Seffner head coach Sal Giardina. “Not making routine plays, our base running wasn’t good … that’s the difference between winning and losing.”

Miscues helped set up TC’s game-changing fifth inning as an infield error and dropped fly ball put two runners in scoring position. Carson Arnold’s infield single brought home courtesy runner Christian Serralles, while a sacrifice fly plated cleanup hitter Dominic Woodward.

Caught in an intentional fifth-inning rundown to allow teammate Carson Arnold to score, Tampa Catholic’s Jose Carrero (13) avoids Seffner Christian’s Ethan Duncan (left) and Kalab Williams (2).

After a wild pitch, running an instant first-and-third play after Jose Carrero walked paid dividends, as Arnold to trotted home before SCA recorded the out at second, giving TC a 4-0 advantage at the time.

“We definitely made some offensive mistakes early on in the game, but the guys battled and we pitched well,” said Tampa Catholic head coach Paul Russo, Jr of his now 12-7 squad.

Tampa Catholic starter Alex Sotiropoulos battled through five scoreless innings, stranding six Seffner Christian runners, four in scoring position.

Starter Alex Sotiropoulos was challenged when errors extended innings and put Seffner Christian runners in scoring position, but the senior never lost faith and never put additional pressure on himself.

“I know we were in some tough spots, but even with a couple of errors, I still trust my defense,” said Sotiropoulos, who worked five innings of one-hit, shutout ball while striking out eight including the first three batters he faced. “I see the work my infield puts in every day and I hardly see any mistakes in practice. I can really trust them to make plays behind me.”

Tampa Catholic’s Carson Arnold rounds second base after a fifth-inning steal as Seffner Christian shortstop Ethan Duncan tell his teammate to hold onto the ball.

In the top of the third inning, Seffner Christian (14-3) had Cyrus Shokrani (hit by pitch), Ethan Duncan (walk) and Kalab Williams (reached on error) on with one out, but Sotiropoulos buckled down and fanned the next two batters he faced. Williams (error) and Kris Colondres (double) were in scoring position in the fifth when a drawn-in infield allowed shortstop Carson Arnold to throw out pinch runner Juelz Sidoti at the plate, while an infield grounder created a force out to end the frame.

“It’s a pitch-by-pitch sort of approach,” Sotiropoulos explained. “I know that no matter who we’re playing, we can hunker down and do the stuff we need to do to win.”

With TC’s Cole Bitman heading to third base, Seffner third baseman Camden McBane throws for a first-inning out.

With a handful of errors and a challenged offense, it would have been understandable if SCA had called it a night. But the visitors kept their game faces on, breaking the scoring ice in the sixth inning when Colondres was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, then looked for more in the seventh.

“Going into the seventh inning, I saw in their eyes that they really felt they could win this ball game,” Giardina said. “The best thing about this team right now is that they fight to the end.”

Tampa Catholic second baseman Hershey Sanchez shows off his quick release for a second-inning putout. Sanchez had a single in the home team’s victory.

Seffner Christian’s first three batters reached to start the seventh, putting the tying run on base. Shokrani hit a deep fly ball to bring home Colin Patten, who singled, but TC closer Trevor West (1 2/3 innings, two strikeouts) crushed the threat with a strikeout and ground out to strand the equalizer at second base. In all, due to timely pitching from Tampa Catholic, SCA stranded 11 runners, nine in scoring position.

Tampa Catholic senior Trevor West gave up a run over 1 2/3 innings of relief but stranded the tying run at second base in the seventh inning of a victory over Seffner Christian.

“T.J. (West) has been a safety net for us,” Russo said. “He’s made huge leaps and bounds on the mound and he doesn’t get nervous in any situation you put him in. He’s ready at all times.”

Seffner Christian starter Ethan Duncan yielded a lone unearned run on three hits in 3 2/3 inning of work, fanning six.

Seffner got a solid start from Duncan, who gave up three hits in 3 2/3 innings and 74 pitches, but the loss stops a six-game winning streak for the pitcher, and an eight-game streak for the team. The early exit allows Duncan to start Tuesday’s game at Santa Fe Catholic, the second of five straight road games to wrap up the regular season.

Giardina said: “I set up the schedule like that on purpose so we can travel together, bond even more and get our chemistry right where we want it going into districts.”

Tampa Catholic also hits the road on Tuesday, heading to Pinellas County to face St Petersburg.

TC rightfielder Jose Carrero tracks down a shallow fourth-inning fly ball.

#8 Tampa Catholic 4, #4 Seffner Christian 2

S 000|001|1 – |2|3|2
T 100|030|x – |4|6|4
W – Sotiropoulos; L – Duncan (6-2); S – West
2B – Kolondres (S); Woodward (T). Records – S (14-3); T (12-7).

Tampa Catholic catcher Ethan Frame (left) congratulates starting pitcher Alex Sotiropoulos as he comes off the mound after his fifth and final inning of the game.