A no-doubt home run and a questionable call at third base Friday highlighted Pace's 5-2 high school baseball win against visiting Navarre.
Trent Higgenbothem launched a three-run, rocket-shot homer over the left field fence with one out in the bottom of the third, breaking open a 2-1 game with what eventually would be the difference in the final district game for both teams. The Patriots' victory spoiled what was an otherwise outstanding outing by Navarre junior Justin Jordan.
"I thought Justin competed and threw the ball well," Navarre head coach Mickey O'Quinn said after the game. "Higgenbothem got hold of one; other than that, it was 2-2."
Jordan pitched all six innings for the Raiders (12-11, 4-6 in District 1-5A) and suffered his first loss in six decisions. He allowed four earned runs on seven hits. He struck out three Patriots and walked none.
Pace, ranked 12th in the ESPN Rise PowerAde Fab 50 national high school baseball rankings, improved to 19-3 (9-1 in district games) a night after Pensacola Catholic ended the Patriots' 14-game winning streak. Pace had handed Catholic, ranked 14th in the Fab 50, its first loss a week earlier.
The Raiders scored a run in the fourth and threatened to score in the fifth before two plays on the bases killed the rally before it really got started. Freshman second baseman Jason Frederick singled to start the frame and sped to third on a single to left field by junior catcher Dusty Jones. Frederick slid under a throw from Pace left fielder Zach Hill and appeared to beat the tag by third baseman Brandon Peterson but was called out. Kyle Camilli followed with a groundball smash at Peterson, who bobbled the ball then threw it to the outfield side of first baseman Zach Potter. Cory Catyb, running for Jones, went to third and Camilli hustled to second on the play.
With one out, Jordan popped to Patrick Maddox in shallow center. Catyb tagged and tried to score, but Maddox' throw easily beat him to the plate, where he was tagged out by Patriots' catcher Jeremy Barlow.
Higgenbothem, who started the game at third base but took the mound to start the fifth inning, retired the Raiders in order in the sixth and seventh innings.
"That was a tough call at third, that might have given us another run, but that's part of the game. And maybe Cory got too aggressive, trying to make something happen (by trying to score on Jordan's fly ball). But we emphasize being aggressive, making the other team make plays."
Pace started the game with consecutive singles by Patrick Ervin, Potter and shortstop Addison Russell. Navarre center fielder Devante Taylor threw out Ervin at the plate trying to score on Russell's hit for the Raiders' first out. Potter and Russell advanced on a wild pitch and Potter scored on a passed ball that moved Russell to third before Jordan hit Higgenbothem with a pitch on a 3-2 count. Russell scored on another passed ball before Jordan got Barlow to ground out to third and Brandon Tyler to line out to Taylor in center field.
Jordan helped himself in the second, fielding a grounder by Zach Hill, wheeling and throwing to shortstop Jared Gonzalez to force Elliott Pearson out at second base. Gonzalez' throw to Camilli beat Hill, completing the double play, and Jordan struck out Maddox looking to end the inning.
Taylor scored the Raiders' first run on Gonzalez' ground out to second base after leading off the second inning with a double and advancing to third on Chris Wheeler's single. With one out in the fourth, Wheeler was hit by a pitch, took second on a wild pitch and third on another Gonzalez grounder to second and scored on Gavin Wehby's single.
Ervin led both teams with two hits, both singles, and scored a run. Potter singled and scored twice and Russell singled and scored. Frederick, Jones, Taylor, Wheeler and Wehby singled for Navarre.
Patrick Turman started for the Patriots but pitched just one inning. Conner Fiasco pitched three innings and surrendered both Raiders' runs on three hits, a base-on-balls, a hit batter and a wild pitch with one strikeout. Higgenbothem pitched three innings and allowed two hits, walked none and struck out four Navarre batters.
"Overall, (the Raiders) competed and played hard," O'Quinn said. "We've made strides since the beginning of the season, we'd won five of six games coming into this one. I feel really good about where we are."
The Raiders have two regular-season games remaining, against Freeport at 6 p.m. Monday at home and at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Fort Walton Beach. Navarre will honor the Raiders' seniors Monday.
Fourth-seeded Navarre will be the home team against fifth-seeded Escambia in the first round of the District 1-5A tournament at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 26, at Escambia. If they can beat the Gators for a third time this season, the Raiders will play top-seeded Pace at 7 P.m. Wednesday, April 27, at Escambia. The district championship game is scheduled at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 28. Both teams in the final will compete in the Region 1-5A tournament.