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Compiled by Steve Breazeale
The Dana Hills High School baseball team ran through a wide range of emotions competing in last week’s National High School Invitational in Cary, North Carolina.
The Dolphins were one of 16 teams invited to play in the high-profile event that featured the best programs in the nation, and Dana Hills nearly bested them all.
Dana Hills made a spectacular run through the single-elimination event, defeating powerhouse programs in dramatic fashion to reach the championship game against Orange Lutheran. But it was against the Lancers, considered by many polls to be the top team in the nation, where the Dolphins’ storybook run ended.
Orange Lutheran held off the Dolphins in a classic battle and won the game, 3-2, on April 1.
Dana Hills earned a spot in the title game after pulling off three come-from-behind wins, and nearly notched its fourth comeback victory against the Lancers.
Dana Hills erased an early 2-0 deficit when Zach Waters and Joe DeBaca collected RBI singles in the third to tie the game. Senior Hans Crouse tried to keep the rally going when he appeared to beat out an infield hit that would have scored one run, but he was called for the third and final out.
The Dolphins had multiple chances to take the lead, and had a runner thrown out at the plate in the fourth inning.
Orange Lutheran scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly in the sixth to end the scoring.
It was a tough loss for the Dolphins, who entered the tournament under the radar. Crouse, who is projected to be a first-round MLB draft choice in June, was the Dolphins’ big star heading into the tournament, and in his first start, he played like it.
Crouse won the duel against Cullman (Alabama) and its ace starter and future draft pick Hayden Henderson in the opener on March 29. Crouse tossed 5 1/3 innings, striking out nine while allowing three unearned runs. DeBaca, who swung a hot bat throughout the entire tournament, hit a two-out, two-RBI single to tie the game 3-3 in the third inning, and Jeremy Ciolek hit a go-ahead RBI double in the fourth to give Dana Hills the lead for good in a 4-3 victory.
Dana Hills rallied to score five times between the third and fifth innings to pick up a 6-3 win over Canterbury (Florida) in the quarterfinals one day later. Thomas Van Hoomissen, Jordan Matthews and DeBaca had clutch RBI hits in the game, and Dana Hills starting pitcher Jack Sterner delivered 6 1/3 strong innings. Sterner allowed three runs in the second but bounced back with four scoreless frames.
Freshman pitcher Dante Jackson was a secret weapon out of the Dolphins’ bullpen throughout the tournament. The tall, lanky left-hander threw 1 2/3 innings and got the save against Cullman, and recorded the final two outs in the win over Canterbury in the quarterfinals. He also pitched an inning the championship game.
In a tournament packed full of them, the Dolphins’ most dramatic moment came in the semifinals against Winder-Barrow (Georgia) on March 31.
With the game tied 5-5 in the seventh inning, Crouse slapped a one-out single into right field that brought home the winning run in walk-off fashion. Crouse had three RBI in the game, and DeBaca tied things in the seventh when he worked a bases loaded walk.
“We battle all day. We came here as the biggest underdog in the tournament and now we’re going to the championship,” Crouse said on television following his big hit.