After losing its coach a week before the postseason, the Naples High baseball team had two choices: fall apart or rally together.
The Golden Eagles picked the latter.
Naples beat Gulf Coast 12-8 in a come-from-behind victory Wednesday in the Class 6A-District 14 championship game at Barron Collier. It is the first district title for the Golden Eagles since they won the state championship in 2009.
Rick Turner, who led the Eagles to their only state title, mysteriously resigned with no reason publicly given just eight days before the postseason. Under interim coach Jeff Galati, Naples (20-6) has won six straight, including two playoff wins to take the 6A-14 title as the No. 3 seed in the competitive four-team district.
“After all the adversity we’ve gone through, to win this feels amazing,” senior Hayden Platt said.
In addition dealing with the coaching change, Naples had to overcome a three-run deficit in Wednesday’s back-and-forth district final.
The Golden Eagles scored four runs in the fifth inning to go from a three-run hole to an 8-7 lead. After Gulf Coast tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, Naples added four runs in the seventh.
Naples had five straight hits with one out in the seventh. Senior Blaze Vazquez’s single scored Jared La Cagnina for the go-ahead run. Rico Soto and Garret Zech also batted in runs during the frame.
“I just wanted to hit the ball some place where (Gulf Coast) couldn’t get it and get the run in,” Vasquez said. “We had some ups and downs, but once we got going, we got back on the horse.”
Platt, who is committed to Central Florida, was 4-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs. He also was intentionally walked to reach base a fifth time. Leadoff hitter Grant Ashline was 3-for-3 with a walk.
La Cagnina, a freshman, earned the victory after taking the mound with the scored tied with one out in the sixth.
The teams combined for 20 runs, 30 hits and together used nine pitchers. Including a 20-minute delay because the umpires were late, the game didn’t end until almost four hours after its scheduled start time.
“That was a great high school baseball game,” first-year Sharks coach Pete Garcia said. “Both teams played seven innings, they battled back and forth. It’s what you would expect of a district championship game.”
Naples will host the District 13 runner-up Wednesday in a regional quarterfinal while Gulf Coast will play at the District 13 champion.
After Naples went up 3-0 in the top of the first, Gulf Coast got on a roll and looked to be cruising. The Sharks (22-5) were up 7-4 in the fifth before the Eagles started their rally.
Though this is Gulf Coast’s seventh regional appearance, the Sharks have yet to win a district championship since the school opened in 1998. This is Naples’ eighth trip to regionals in 10 seasons.