Panthers' comeback is denied

For two innings that seemed to last two hours, Lakeside rallied furiously in front of a packed Panther Field, chipping away at a large deficit.

 

It turned out those would be the last innings of the season for the Panthers, as Marist held on for a sweep, winning 5-0 and 11-7 in Friday night's Class AAAA state championship series.

But the comeback attempt illustrated a never-die attitude that put the Panthers in position to play for a state title, as they won four nail-biting series coming into the finals.

"Our goal was to get to the state finals. We made our goal, but we got down today," senior Spencer Starnes said. "We just came back and just started fighting. That's all you can ask for is to keep fighting and never quit."

Marist won its 11th state championship and first since 2003, while Lakeside's chase for its first state title came up one step short.

After a long dry spell, Lakeside's bats awoke in the third inning of Game 2. After a leadoff walk by Starnes and singles by Ben Black and Kody Belcher, Clayton Miller hit a grand slam off the top of the scoreboard in left field to put his team up 5-4.

The War Eagles (30-8) responded, as freshman Anthony Sherlag hit a two-run homer in the bottom half of the inning. Chesny Young's three-run homer in the fourth inning brought the lead to 9-4, and Marist upped the lead to 11-4 in the fifth.

That's when the comeback attempt began for Lakeside (29-8).

Miller, Zach Hayden and Jeffrey Stoner all singled to load the bases. Derek Russo hit a sacrifice fly, then pinch-hitter Cade Hardin nearly hit a three-run homer. The ball died just short of the left-field wall, serving as a sacrifice fly.

Starnes walked and Black singled home Stoner to cut the deficit to 11-7 before Belcher grounded out to end the threat.

With two outs in the top of the seventh, Hayden reached on an errant throw to first by reliever David Bourbonnais that would have ended the game.

Stoner singled up the middle for a glimmer of hope, but Russo flew out to center to spark Marist's outfield dog-pile celebration.

In Game 1, Marist lefty Evan Geist outdueled Stoner.

Geist, a Florida State recruit, struck out 10 with a dominant breaking pitch.

"They're never going to quit," Lakeside coach T.J. Davis said of his team. "These guys dug at it and dug at it and tried to get as much as they could.

"... It just didn't happen."

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