CRYSTAL RIVER — It was the type of game neither pitcher deserved to lose, and Caleb Dix got to help make sure he didn’t.
The Crystal River senior right-hander fanned 15 Citrus batters on Friday night at Mike Hampton Field, yet his biggest strike came with the bat.
Dix doubled off the fence in center field to lead off the bottom of the seventh, igniting the host Pirates in their final turn at the plate. The result was a walk-off 3-2 victory.
“Just get on (base) for my teammates, let them finish the job,” Dix said. “It was good to hit a leadoff double. That just made it go through the roof, the energy; just a big, big deal.
“It’s going to set us on a good note for the rest of the year, for sure, and for us to have confidence for every district rival that we face.”
The game was actually won on an error. After the Pirates (2-1, 2-1 District 6A-6) tied it on a single by Anthony Cairone, Tyler Richardson followed with a base hit up the middle that loaded the bases.
Or it would have loaded the bases. Lane Ewing had been held up at third with only one out, but the center fielder airmailed an ill-advised throw home. That allowed Ewing to trot in to end it.
“That’s why we preach little things all day,” Citrus head coach Brandon DeRespiris said. “Whether it be hitting a cut, making sure we’re backing up. It’s just that simple.
“It was a well-played ballgame, a pitchers’ duel. Caleb threw great, Nolan (Bescher) threw great. Caleb had 15 Ks, four walks; credit to him. Nolan had seven Ks and one walk; and credit to him. Nolan threw his arm out for us. He did wonderful tonight and we let him down.”
Bescher, like Dix, tossed a complete game. He ended up throwing 6 1/3 innings, the senior righty giving up two earned runs on six hits.
“He was up, down, in, out, keeping them off-balance all night,” DeRespiris said. “His curveball, change-up, everything was on. Fastball was locating up and in, and then get (the hitters) away. Nolan was lights out. He deserved to win that ballgame.”
Both pitchers were perfect through three innings. Dix struck out eight of the first 10 batters he faced, including a streak of seven in a row.
“It was a great bounce-back for me after last week (a season-opening loss to Dunnellon),” Dix said. “First-pitch fastball, getting ahead, and it was setting sail from there.”
The Hurricanes (1-3, 0-3 6A-6) put the first runner on base in the top of the fourth when Jarred Daigle’s pop-up behind second tipped off the shortstop’s glove for an error. That ended up as a harmless miscue, and the Pirates got their first two hits on back-to-back singles up the middle by Hurley Campbell and Anthony Agate to open up the bottom of the fourth. Agate’s knock drove in Campbell, who had stolen second.
Citrus took advantage of two walks and a sacrifice bunt in the fifth to score the tying run on Jalen Armstrong’s slow grounder to second. The ’Canes then grabbed a 2-1 advantage in the sixth, Daigle turning a one-out double into a run thanks to a passed ball.
That’s where the score stood in the seventh and final frame. Dix had struck out the side, all looking, in the top half before starting off the bottom of the inning with a booming shot to dead center that nearly went out of the park.
Daniel Sayadoff singled and subsequently swiped second without a throw to put two men in scoring position with none out. Dix was then thrown out at home on a grounder to second.
Cairone followed that with a blooper into shallow center. The second baseman just missed making a difficult over-the-shoulder catch, the ball instead trickling off his glove as he went to the ground. That set up Richardson’s game-ending at-bat.
“A win’s a win in my book,” Crystal River head coach Devin Dominguez said. “Does it feel good for the kids, for the community? Absolutely. At the same time, though, we still have a lot to work on.
“That’s what I expect out of Caleb Dix night in and night out. With him being big-time on the mound and him getting the rally started in the seventh inning, that’s what I expect for him to do every time he touches the baseball field.”