0

Dream season over for Seminole County

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

DONALSONVILLE -- This is what you need to know about the kids at Seminole County.

Down by seven runs in the seventh inning with their season evaporating, the dugout was rumbling -- like thunder just beyond the hill.

Rumbling and chanting and believing ...

This is Seminole, where nothing seemed to faze these kids, not even on the darkest day of their magical season, a day when nothing went right in a tough 11-4 loss to Savannah Christian, which survived a brutal and gutsy three-game series to advance to the second round of the Class A state playoffs.

"It just wasn't our day,'' said Seminole coach Truette Johnson. Then he paused a moment, and added. "But it was our season.''

Indeed.

That's what they walked off the field with Saturday afternoon: a season to remember.

The run-and-fun Indians, who scored 219 runs, went 23-4 and won their first region title in more than 10 years, saw that season end on a day when their final comeback just wasn't enough to overtake one of the top baseball programs in the state.

"It's bittersweet,'' senior catcher Sam Buczek said. "It's a long season, and we went 23-4. That's kind of unheard of in this part of the state ...

"It was such a great season,. It was special. It was fun -- every second in the dugout was fun. Yeah, it was special.''

So is Buczek.

He wrote his own story of courage and dedication Saturday. Buczek, who pitches, catches and does a little of everything else for Seminole, suffered an oblique injury in the second game of the series late Friday. No one thought he would play again in the playoffs.

"I went to the hospital early Saturday and the therapist said that it wouldn't get any worse if I could stand the pain,'' Buczek said.

He caught the entire game and stood his ground in a collision at the plate, tagging out Andrew Moore, who tried to run him over and score from second, for the final out in the sixth. He winced. He grunted. But he didn't quit.

Buczek, who went 7-0 on the mound this season, walked twice, scored once and had a home run taken away from him in the third when right fielder Kenny Katzman reached above the wall to steal the deep shot.

That's Buczek, gutsy, unrelenting and devoted -- the picture of Seminole baseball.

"You would have to break my legs and take my arms off to keep me from playing in this game,'' Buczek said.

That's what you need to know about the Seminole kids, the ones who came back in the second game late Friday after trailing 4-0 early and 7-6 in the seventh to beat Savannah Christian, 15-9, with a six-run ninth inning that was ignited by Jakhari Martin's first homer of his high school career -- a grand slam -- to force Saturday's survivor-take-all game.

Just take a look at Quan Johnson, who milked everything he had out of a big bending curveball all afternoon, stopping Savannah Christian (22-7), from the second inning through the seventh on just five hits.

He gave up one run and struck out three while walking two.

It was Johnson who pitched the two extra innings -- perfect innings -- to get the win in Game 2 on Friday. There he was Saturday, finding something at the bottom of the tank, just like Friday -- a little extra. He even drove in a pair of runs in the first inning to get Seminole on the board with a huge two-out single.

That's Johnson, gutsy, unrelenting, devoted -- the picture of Seminole baseball.

That's what you need to know about the Seminole kids, the ones who had the best record in years, the ones that were still rumbling at the end.

They needed one more comeback on Saturday, but the hole was just too big, a crater-sized 10-2 deficit that came after Savannah's 10-run first inning all but sent the Raiders to the next round.

"We won the first inning,'' said Savannah Christian coach Carl Carter, who admitted even he was shocked his team put up a 10-spot to open the game. "My hat's off to Seminole. They came back and never gave up. They've got a great team and great coaching.''

But Savannah Christian had more -- more arms. Carter said after Friday's marathon game that he had saved a couple of pitchers for the deciding game.

Enter Lawson German, one of the top pitchers in SC's program. He tore his labrum last year and sat out almost all of his junior and senior seasons, returning just two weeks ago. The timing couldn't have been better for Savannah -- or worse for Seminole.

German not only stopped the Indians on two hits, while striking out four over four innings, but he hit a three-run homer in that nightmarish first inning. He gave way to Katzman, who gave up a pair of runs on RBI grounders by Martin and Justin Burke, and allowed only two hits over the final three innings.

In a series that demanded everything from both pitching staffs, Savannah won the arms race because the Raiders simply had more arms.

"There's probably not a team in the state with as much pitching as they have,'' said Buczek, who grew up in Savannah and knew most of SC's players. "They don't just have pitching. They have quality pitching. (German is the second-best pitcher on that staff).''

Sam's younger brother Josh also knew SC players and had a big day at the plate with a double and a shot to left center that would've been another if not for a spectacular defensive play by SC's Garrett Ryan.

Johnson knew what his team was facing.

"It's hard enough to come back from a 10-run inning, especially when they have two pitchers who are throwing 85 mph fastballs,'' he said. "They've got four or five pitchers who throw at 85-plus. It's tough to overcome (an eight-run deficit) when you face that kind of pitching. Nobody will match up with their pitching. They will make some noise.''

Seminole did not exit quietly.

"We were fighting back the whole game,'' said Sam Buczek, who has signed with Darton. "We never quit.''

Johnson knew it, felt it and talked about it.

"I'm proud of them,'' he said. "They never quit. I've seen other teams just give up after a 10-run inning, but we kept our heads up. Sam had that home run taken away at the fence, and we had two other long fly balls that they made big plays on to take away hits. If we get the home run and (those long fly ball plays) we're right back in the game.''

There was more pride than tears on the diamond at the end.

"They don't have anything to be ashamed of,'' Johnson said. "We got the toughest draw in the state. You can't take away what we did in the season from one playoff series.''

In the end, that's what you needed to know about the Seminole kids, the ones who carved out the best season in years with a head-first-slide brand of baseball, where the green light was always on and they were always running -- running toward greatness.

They never stopped.

It was a season that will linger long after Saturday's loss -- the kind of season that defined this group, this close-knit team of kids who came together for one magical run.

"It's been a ride,'' Sam Buczek said. "A great ride.''