A moment Damien Torres and his teammates have spent years working for has finally come to be.
Thanks in part to Torres, who recorded the final out of Thursday’s 8A-District 4 championship game, the Strawberry Crest Chargers are district champions for the first time in school history.
“It’s all you can ever ask for, a district championship,” Torres said. “It feels great.”
Crest got the job done with a 7-3 win over the hosting Wharton Wildcats, top seed in the 8A-4 tournament. The Chargers and Wildcats had split the regular-season series, so Thursday’s final came with plenty of hype.
After two perfect innings by pitcher Kade Manderscheid and the Crest defense, Joseph Parrillo got the Chargers on the scoreboard by smacking a leadoff home run in the top of the third inning. Wharton was able to tie it at 1-1 in the bottom of the third with Brian Baughman’s RBI double, which scored Ricky Viloria, but Parrillo scored Alex Mussenden in the top of the fourth to give Crest a 2-1 lead. With Manderscheid at third base, Tanner Kelley increased the lead to 3-1 with an RBI single of his own. Wharton scored again in the bottom of the fourth when Dylan McDonald’s double sent Zach Ehrhard in for one run, but the 3-2 score wouldn’t hold much longer.
Crest’s offense was nearly unstoppable in the top of the fifth inning. Ben Pues scored Ryan Dell with one out to put the score at 4-2 in Crest’s favor. Mussenden drove in Damien Torres shortly afterward, then followed Jacob Heath’s gutsy baserunning to help put two more runs on the board. At this point, the Wildcats brought Carson Caso in to pitch and the sophomore was able to prevent the Chargers from crossing home plate the rest of the night.
Manderscheid and Caso traded scoreless innings until the bottom of the seventh, when Steven Hotinski’s ground ball brought Ehrhard in to give Wharton its third run of the game with two outs. Viloria took first base after being hit by a pitch and Nick Albury’s single moved him to second, at which point the Chargers brought Torres in from third base to pitch, moved first baseman Derek Barone to third and slotted Kelley at first base. Baughman singled to load up the bases and create a jam for Torres, but the senior was determined not to let the rallying Wildcats go any further. He was able to get Grady Maguire out and seal the deal.
“I’m pumped for these guys,” head coach Eric Beattie said. “It was awesome. The guys held their composure. A lot of them, this was their first time being in a district championship, so our game plan was basically to play within ourselves and execute. We did both those things real well.”
Crest’s first regional tournament run as a district champion will begin in Dover with a May 8 game against Gainesville-Buchholz, which took a 4-3 loss to Ocala-Forest on Thursday. The Chargers and Bobcats will square off at Strawberry Crest at 7 p.m. that night and the winner will face the winner of that night’s Forest-Wharton matchup on May 15. Whether it’s Buchholz, Forest, Wharton or whoever the Chargers may go head-to-head with throughout the month, the team has one message for its opponents.
“We fight,” Torres said. “We ain’t never gonna give up.”