LYNN HAVEN - Led by senior pitcher Connor Solomon, the Clay High baseball team avenged a 3-0 region championship loss last year to Mosley High of Lynn Haven by turning the tables to a 2-0 region title on Tues., May 22. The win puts Clay into the Class 6A Final Four championship tournament to be held in Fort Myers May 30-June 1.
“Our boys were ready to play,” said Clay coach Josh Persinger. “We have been talking about this game for 364 days. In the weightroom, all summer, every conditioning every practice. We knew on the bus ride home last year we wanted to do everything we could to get back here.”
Clay entered the region championship game with region wins over Stanton Prep and a nine-inning bonanza over Ponte Vedra High. Mosley, a state runnerup the past two years, advanced with region wins over Fort Walton Beach and West Florida. In 2017, Mosley lost in the state semifinal to eventual 6A champion Archbishop McCarthy who beat Tampa Jesuit 5-1 in the championship game.
At the 2018 Final Four tournament, Clay will face Tampa Jefferson at 10 a.m. on May 30 with Barron Collier to face Merritt Island in the other semifinal at 1 p.m. also on May 30.
Clay (25-7) and Tampa Jefferson (20-8) are both district runnerups while Barron Collier (19-12) and Merritt Island (23-6) are both district champions from their respective regions. Merritt Island, Jefferson and Barron Collier were all region semifinalists in 2017.
In 2012 and 2014, Clay made the Final Four under coach Rob Thompson with a 5A finals’ loss to Tampa Jesuit in 2014.
“The first time Clay had ever made the Final Four was in 2012 and ironically we matched up with Ponte Vedra,” said Persinger, who was an assistant coach. “Who knew at that time it would be the beginning of a huge local rivalry that has peppered the history books 7-8 times in a short in a short period. The loss to Jesuit in the State Championship hurt because we knew how bad those guys wanted it. 2014 was a special group of kids and almost all of them have reached out to us congratulating this team on their road to state.”
Barron Collier, 5A champs in 1997, 3A runnerup in 1991 and a Final Four finisher in 2006, lost to Mosley in the state semifinals in 2016 before Mosley lost to Archbishop McCarthy in the championship game.
Tampa Jefferson had a string of Final Four appearances from 1943-1962, but have been region finishers since 1985.
Merritt Island was 5A champs in 1999 and 2000 but have 11straight region finishes since 2005.
Against Mosley, Clay struck first with a Kevin Jackson single in the opening inning followed by a Nick Barrie bunt that put a scoring run in place, but a grounder to Tyler spence and a flyout to Josh Lemen ended the threat.
“We did somethings different logistically, we learned from our mistakes on travel and pregame procedures,” said Persinger. “I think Mosley knew we were different before we even got off the bus.”
Mosley got a walk with their first at bat, but Zack Morris and Andy Yarbrough execute a double play to squash that early effort.
“Zach Morris transitioned into a new role at shortstop and has done a good job,” said Persinger. “Find a way is kind of what we preached and they have so far.”
In the third inning, still 0-0, Barrie and Spence both got singles to set up a sacrifice bunt from Lement that scored Barrie.
Solomon blasted the next inning with three of his four strikeouts.
“Everything we heard about Mosley was they put the ball in play,” said Persinger. “We were curious how that was going to play out because Solomon has been a strikeout guy all year.”
In the fourth inning, Chase Holman walked before Yarbrough reached on an error with Garrett Chun pinchhitting a hard grounder to center field that scored pinchrunner Bryce Parker to put Clay up 2-0. Yarbrough would follow Chun with a single but Barrie hit a line drive to centerfield for the final out.
A heads up defensive effort from left fielder Dylan Faulkner got a double play at second base with Mosley batter B. Roberson caught trying to run to second base.
“Back to back games that made a huge impact on the game and possibly changed the outcome,” said Persinger, noting Faulkner’s home run steal against Ponte Vedra last week. “Both were huge blows to the opposition as they could have been momentum swings.”
In the fifth, Solomon exerted his arm with simple grounders and a line drive to Spence at third base as Mosley could not get an outfield hit.
Clay’s final defensive gem came in the sixth with shortstop Zack Morris and Andy Yarbrough punching out a second double play off a grounder in the shortstop hole.
“In the sixth inning, they had runners on first and second with one out and their best hitter up. A home run would have made it a 3-2 ball game going into the top of the seventh with all momentum from Clay gone,” said Persinger. “Conner and Coach Travis McQuaig worked great together on that sequence and ended up getting an inning ending double play to finish the sixth.”
Mosley made one final effort to score runs with a seventh inning double, but Solomon induced two grounders to leave the baserunner at second base.
Clay outhit Mosley 7-4 with both teams getting two field errors.