When Nick James toed the lefty batter’s box with two outs in the third inning of Seabreeze’s senior night matchup with University, he probably felt less pressure than the situation warranted.
Moments later, James ripped a line drive to right field, scoring leadoff man Tanner Rachal for the game’s first run. He checked in with Sandcrabs’ first base coach Billy Gahagan and learned his base knock was even more clutch than he imagined.
“I thought there was one out, and I was just trying to get my job done with runners in scoring position so I had to do it,” said James, one of the Sandcrabs’ 11 seniors.
Seabreeze (12-12) would add another run in the fourth and plate five in the sixth, but they were just insurance as pitching dominated in a 7-0 win.
Starter Zach Ballas spent the fifth inning of his senior night lingering between Seabreeze’s dugout and bullpen, with a pitch counter wrapped around the middle finger of his right hand. After tossing four scoreless innings, and with the district tournament less than a week away, his night was done.
Ballas pitched himself out of a jam in the first. University loaded the bases, capitalizing on an error and a well-executed hit and run in the hole vacated by shortstop covering second base.
“My job as a pitcher is just to throw strikes and let everything in the field happen,” Ballas said. “That’s what I did tonight, and my defense ran a nice double play in the first inning. I trust my teammates.”
The right-hander is just glad to be back on the bump after breaking his left hand during base-running drills at practice earlier this season.
“It feels good to be back on senior night, and get a win,” he said.
Seabreeze’s road to finishing the regular season at .500 has been windy. The Sandcrabs started slow but pieced together a six-game winning streak midway through the year. A lack of timely hitting was culprit for Seabreeze's slow start, and now that the bats are clicking, it's been a key factor to the team's turnaround.
“That’s been the difference, guys stepping up to the plate and knowing they could get the job done,” Seabreeze coach Anthony Campanella said. “We had keys hits at the right times. When we lost some games, we weren’t getting that.”
On Thursday, the hits just kept coming.
Rachal roped a stand-up triple in the right-center gap, scoring two and putting the game out of reach in the fifth.
Seabreeze carries a first round bye into districts, and will host the winner of Matanzas and Mainland on Tuesday at Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona.
In the postgame huddle, Campanella told his team three things: they’re not done winning, they’re peaking at just the right time, and — they can’t take whomever they face lightly.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride, and we’ve stayed strong and battled through it,” James said. “Now, we’re kinda working together as a team, and it’s really nice.”