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King Comes Up Short In 7A Championship Defeat

The Lions pose with their 7A runners-up trophy.

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The King Lions made it to the ultimate destination for the first time this season, in reaching Thursday’s 7A state championship. In his 42-year coaching career, manager Jim Macaluso finally got to feel what it felt like to see his guys compete in that game and live that experience when his Lions took on Jacksonville Nease. Even the tough sting of defeat could not erase the joy of being there and competing on the highest level for the ultimate prize.

Nease pounded it on early and often to run away with the state title, defeating Tampa King 11-0 late Thursday night at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers to earn the crown as the state champion of Class 7A in Florida.

“They are just good people, good teammates and good students,” Macaluso said. “They are just a good group of kids, and it showed with the run they made. We’re happy to be here, and we talked about how the other times we always left in the first round. It was our goal to get to this game, but it was our goal to win it. But again, I tried to tell them tonight to keep it in perspective what you did. It is going to hurt a little bit tonight but you have to get out of bed tomorrow and know what we did. If Vegas put odds on high school sports back in the districts, we wouldn’t have been favored to get here. so they have to be proud, and I think they will be.”

The Panthers wasted no time in getting to work, taking the lead right out of the chute in the opening frame. Speedy center fielder Jason Sowden ripped a double down the third base line and then came around to score when Collin Garner reached on a throwing error two batters later. After Matt Eden worked a walk to keep things going, starting pitcher Leighton alley plunked an RBI single into shallow left-center field to stake himself a 2-0 lead before he even took the mound.

“My team just did an awesome job of giving me a cushion to work with,” Alley said. “Once you get a couple of runs to work with, it is just a lot more comfortable to pitch from ahead. I knew my job was just to throw strikes and get ahead in the count. I walked too many batters and hit a few batters and that’s not really like me. But my team was behind me and that’s all that matters. We came out with the ‘W’ and I couldn’t be more happy for us.”

Sowden came back to the plate in the second, where he continued to cause trouble for the Lions. Sowden worked a two-out walk that ended up costing King dearly when Kyle Huber jumped on an 0-1 offering and drove it over the left field fence for a two-run home run and a 4-0 Nease lead.

Nease was back at it again in the third. Alley singled through the right side and gave way to courtesy-runner Jared Whittle, who scored thanks to an RBI single to center field from catcher Tyler McKay. Courtesy-runner Jacob Allsup came in to run for McKay, and he scored off an RBI single up the middle by Cody Hargus.

King broke up the no-hit bid on a single to center from Dehreon Pressley in the third, but was unable to tally any runs despite putting two runners on base.

“We just ran out of gas a little bit tonight,” Macaluso said. “But they competed. Sometimes it didn’t look like it, but they competed hard and they card about it. A tough loss is a tough loss.”

Sowden and Huber then came up to pile on more runs for Nease in the bottom half of the frame. Sowden singled to center, stole second and third and then jogged home when Huber drove an RBI double deep into right-center field.

The Panthers extended the lead with two more runs in the sixth. Sowden was hit by a pitch, stole second and moved to third on a throwing error, before scoring on an RBI single to center from Huber. Pinch-hitter Jay Gallagher then pushed Huber home on an RBI ground out.

Nease then finished off its big offensive night with two final runs in the seventh. Cody Hargus singled and then scored on an RBI double from Chris Eichorn, who then scored on an RBI double from Huber.

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