The Winter Springs Bears represented Seminole County's last best hope of claiming a hometown title at the National High School Invitational at Sanford Memorial Stadium.
Those hopes were dashed Wednesday night.
Despite a strong performance from starter Ben Nelson, who allowed just three runs over five innings, the Bears couldn't muster much offense and fell 3-0 to All Saints Academy in the NHSI quarterfinals.
"They had a guy that kept us off balance," Winter Springs coach Jeff Perez said. "When we put balls in play, they made the plays so we didn't really have anything to capitalize on. When you get guys in scoring position and don't get clutch hits, it's hard to win."
The Bears managed only six hits and had only two through the first five frames. They put runners on base in five of the seven innings, but ended up stranding six runners on base.
"It's just a matter of getting timely hitting," Perez said. "That's baseball. You have to get clutch hits. You have to want to be up in that spot and get it done. But failure is part of the game. It's going to happen sometimes. I don't think it was one particular thing. They were just better than us tonight."
Nelson weaved through five innings on the hill but couldn't keep the Saints off the board completely. The senior hurler escaped the first inning after a leadoff single, but wasn't as lucky in the second.
Nelson struck out the Carson Fulmer leading off the inning, but Corey Topa followed with a blast to left center that narrowly missed clearing the fence. Topa stopped at second with a double. Nelson got the next hitter to ground to third for the second out, but Carson Weeder singled through the middle to score Topa with the game's first run.
The Saints added a run in the third when Kevin Gregg led off the inning with a solo homer that just cleared the fence in left-center. Undeterred, Nelson came back to strikeout the next two batters.
"[Ben] pitched well," Perez said. "He's our number one guy for a reason. He's going to play in college for a reason. He not only has the stuff to do it but he's got the mind and competitiveness to go out there and refuse to get beat. He knows he's going to get hit once in while, that's part of the game, but it's what you do after that. He's got a lot of character and that's why he's going to be successful at Navy."
All Saints scratched out their final run off Nelson in the fourth. Topa reached on an error by shortstop Taylor Perez and moved to second on a singled by Ryan Brooker. With two on and nobody out, Weeder struck again, stroking a soft single between second and short that trickled into short centerfield and scored Topa with an unearned run.
"I felt like I did fine, the only problem I had was I didn't get ahead of a lot of hitters," Nelson said. "I concentrated as much as I could on throwing strikes and keeping them off balance."
Nelson managed to escape the inning without further damage, but the Bears wasted opportunities to get back in it in the sixth and seventh innings. They brought the tying run to the plate in both innings but failed to score.
After pitcher Carson Fulmer retired the first two batters in the sixth, Nelson knocked him out with a single. Grant Porter came on in relief and was greeted with another single by Jeff Gould. But Porter got pinch hitter John Sanfort to fly out to right, ending the threat.
The Bears made one last attempt at a rally in the seventh. Zach Edler started the inning with a single and Chris Breen followed with a bloop to shallow center. But Edler had to hold up in case the ball was caught and wound up being forced at second by the centerfielder. Porter then picked Breen off first as Taylor Snipes stood in the batters box.
With two outs, Snipes kept the game alive with a single and Taylor Perez worked out a walk to bring the tying run to the dish, Porter beared down on third baseman Matt Zettler and got the senior to fly to right to end the game.
"We were getting some hits today, we just weren't getting that clutch hit that we needed in that big situation," Snipes said. "We're pretty disappointed. We had high expectations because we know we can compete with anybody."
Snipes was 2 for 3 on the night for Winter Springs with a couple of singles. Nelson also reached base twice and stole a bag.
Out of the bullpen, Vinny Censabella pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Nelson. He walked two, struck out four and worked out of a jam to leave the bases loaded in the seventh.
The Bears move into the fifth place bracket. They''ll take on Windward of Los Angeles at 4:30 p.m. this afternoon.
All Saints moves on the semifinals. They'll play Orlando Timber Creek today with a berth in NHSI Championship game on the line.
"I really wanted to play Timber Creek," Perez said. "I like Scott Grove and I know they've got good things going on at Timber Creek. But that's the way it goes. We've had an up and down season. We're awfully young in comparison so hopefully we can just learn from our mistakes and keep moving forward."
IN OTHER ACTION
Rain washed out Orangewood Christian's scheduled tilt with Mosley on Wednesday, but two other games went off without a hitch.
Timber Creek 9, Windward 0: Tyler Marincov continued to rake, hitting his second homer in as many games, a first inning, three-run blast and drove in four runs as the Wolves shutout Windward. Marincov is now 4-6 with two homers and eight RBI in the tourney. Brandon Floyd and Jake Nellesen combined for a two-hit shutout.
John I. Leonard 10, Seminole Ridge 1: Ronald Pena pitched a complete game five-hitter and Patrick Johnson was 3 for 3 with three runs scored for the victorious Lancers.