VENICE — Kyle Miller backpedaled until center fielder met chain-link fence. Then Miller jumped and extended his glove toward the Venice sky, hoping to reel in an out that would have sent the game into extra innings.
Instead, the ball that was crushed by Fort Myers American's Tommy Dahl employed too much inertia, and sailed over the fence for a game-winning grand slam.
Miller's determined effort mirrored his San Carlos team's performance in the Section 6 11-12-year-old Little League tournament: Good try, but just out of reach.
"We didn't get shut out. We didn't get blown away. We were in every game until the last out," said San Carlos manager Troy Withstandley, whose team finished 0-3.
It was that agonizing last out which eluded District 18 champion San Carlos in its finale, a 6-2 heartbreaking setback against District 9 title holder Fort Myers American on Saturday afternoon at Chuck Reiter Stadium.
Both teams dropped their first two games. So the only significance left was for Lee County pride. And for five and two-thirds innings, San Carlos was king of the county.
San Carlos starter Ryan Withstandley was cruising along just fine with a 2-0 lead into the sixth inning. In fact, he needed just three pitches to retire the side in order in the fifth.
But San Carlos' defense — which had just turned a nifty 3-6 double play between first baseman Connor Grevel and shortstop Chandler Nemitz — became unglued trying to secure that final out in the bottom of the sixth.
First, Sam Moore singled. Then Dylan DeMarest and Ryder Albright reached on infield errors that allowed American to knot the game at 2-2.
Two walks loaded the bases before Cole Baxter relieved Withstandley. Baxter was promptly greeted by Dahl's slam that ended it.
"My coach asked me for a line drive and everybody was saying just get a hit and it will score a run," said Dahl, "but it was a thrill to see that ball go over."
For San Carlos, a team few expected to make it to sectional, the stunning conclusion didn't overshadow an otherwise strong performance in the tournament.
San Carlos opened with a 9-2 loss against District 26's Braden River on Friday evening at Englewood Sports Complex in a game that the eventual champions didn't blow open until the final inning.
On Saturday morning, District 16 champion Venice National needed to rally for a 7-5 win against the pesky San Carlos squad.
Then came the disappointing loss to Fort Myers American, but manager Withstandley said his players still departed the tournament with their heads held high.
"It was fun," said Withstandley. "I think the kids got a lot of good experience out of it. They did a good job. I'm sure they wanted at least one win out of here."
Braden River (3-0) proved to be the class of the field, but struggled to put away San Carlos, which trailed 4-2 after five innings. Braden River scored five runs in the sixth to put the game — which ended at 11:01 p.m. — out of reach.
Ten hours later, San Carlos fell behind Venice National, 2-0, before taking the lead with a wild four-run second.
Grevel started the rally with a bad hop single and Miller finished it by lofting a bases-loaded single into shallow left. The ball was misplayed by Venice, allowing courtesy runner Anthony Prohaska, Baxter, Zach Culvahouse and Miller to score.
Venice National was clearly frustrated. Starter Ryan Golembeski threw his glove and then kicked it, prompting a warning from the home plate umpire.
More fireworks came in the top of the third. Michael Knott scored on a wild pitch by Miller, who raced home to cover the plate. As the players were getting to their feet, it appeared Miller slightly shoved Knott. A Venice National coach first complained to the home plate umpire and then directed words toward San Carlos shortstop Caleb Nemitz. The coach was scolded by a base umpire and warned not to address San Carlos players again.
Cooler heads prevailed for the remainder of the game.
Before the third inning ended, Tyler Atwell's RBI single tied the game at 4-4.
Atwell put Venice ahead for good with a two-run double in the fifth.
Like they did all tournament, San Carlos didn't exit quietly. Culvahouse led off the sixth with a single and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Withstandley to make it 7-5 before Venice turned a double play that ended the game.
"They made some nice plays," said Withstandley. "They outplayed us. They were the better team. We had our chances. We didn't make the plays."
For five innings against Fort Myers American, San Carlos did make all the plays.
Collin Martin threw out a runner at first from right field. Culvahouse, who caught all eight post-season games, nailed James Renner on a steal attempt.
Grevel led off the second with a double to right. Connor Pearson, running for Grevel, scored the game's first run on a ground out by Joshua Chapman.
In the third, Withstandley led off with a single. Pearson, in another courtesy running role, scored on a double by Nemitz to make it 2-0.
On the mound, Withstandley was in command for all but the final out. He allowed four hits, struck out five and walked three in five and two-thirds.
San Carlos was error-free for five innings before committing three in the sixth, paving the way for American's rally that culminated with Dahl's grand slam.
"Defense wins, and sometimes defense loses," said Withstandley.
San Carlos just wasn't quite as polished in sectional as they had been in district.
In order to get to Venice, San Carlos needed to win four straight district games after losing their opener. That's exactly what they did by beating LaBelle, Immokalee, North Naples and Golden Gate National to win District 18, a first for the league.
Throughout sectional, that district banner clung to fences next to San Carlos' dugouts. No doubt, the banner will be imbedded in the memories of the players for years to come.
"I'm proud of these guys," said Withstandley. "They did better than anyone ever gave them credit for."