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St. John Paul II, St. Andrew’s Knocked Out Of District Tourneys

Connor Cavo (99) went 5 1/3 innings strong for Saint John Paul II but still took the loss to Coral Springs Charter in the district semifinals.

The Coral Springs Charter Panthers (17-9) will face the North Broward Prep Eagles (21-4) in the 3A-12 district finals after both teams secured semifinal wins on Tuesday.

The Panthers took down the St. John Paul II Academy Eagles (14-10-1) in the early slot, 1-0. Senior left-hander David Austen was brilliant on the mound for CS Charter as he nearly threw a no-hitter, allowing a single hit in the top of the seventh. Dom Rivara reached on a ball in play during the second inning as well, but the scoreboard read error instead of hit.

Austen said he wasn’t aware of the no-hitter until the bottom of the sixth. After losing it, he admitted that he could have thrown a better pitch, but there were 103 other pitches thrown throughout the afternoon that overshadowed that one. He closed out the shutout one pitch shy of the state limit for high schoolers, striking out nine along the way.

“I kind of just pictured myself going 1-2-3 every inning,” Austen said. “We faced them earlier in the year and I didn’t do too well that time, so I just kind of cleared that out of my mind and it worked out.”

Fear began to creep into the minds of coaches and spectators that a lack of run support might threaten Austen’s gem, but the Panthers finally got a run across the plate in the bottom of the sixth. Catcher Jack Grasso drew a crucial walk to lead off the frame, allowing courtesy runner Brody Gargiulo (who was listed on the junior varsity roster to start the season) to take over.

Ethan Wells laid down a bunt in front of the catcher, Rivara, and took off for first, thinking that the ball would likely roll foul. Rivara seemed to think it was going foul as well, pausing for a second before grabbing the ball and swiping behind him for a tag that came in a split second late. Wells heard cheers behind him as reached first safely and realized what he’d accomplished.

“I usually don’t get the call to bunt very often, but during practice, we go over that a million times,” Wells said. “It’s the first thing we do before we hit.”

As good as Austen was, Eagles starter Connor Cavo matched him for all but one inning. He surrendered just the one earned run through 5 1/3 innings, striking out five and giving up just two base hits. Manager Peter Graffeo had nothing but praise for Cavo after the game.

“He’s only a sophomore, and he’s an outstanding pitcher,” Graffeo said. “The biggest thing we’ve been worried about is him not getting too riled up, and he really took that next step today. He gave us everything and we couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Cavo walked four batters, which ate into his pitch count a bit, but he had the Panthers “figured out to an extent,” according to CS Charter manager Max Boling. Perhaps the most impressive part about Cavo’s game is his mature approach to pitching.

“In the bullpen, I wasn’t at my best,” Cavo said. “I just wanted to go out there and compete. Even if I didn’t have my best stuff, I had to throw what I had for strikes. So, that’s what I stuck with and I eventually started to catch my curveball a little bit.”

Moving forward, Graffeo says the Eagles will practice as if they are playing in the regional tournament. Official word won’t come in until the end of the week, but St. John Paul II Academy was one of the top teams in the region coming into the district tournament and is well-positioned to receive an at-large bid.

“I don’t think we are going to be an easy matchup for anybody,” Graffeo said. “We have strong pitching. Anytime you have that, especially in a playoff game, you’re going to be competitive. Now, if you can put some hits together, that’s a whole other story. Districts didn’t fall the way we wanted, but when we get into regionals, we’ll be ready to rock and roll.”

Ethan Pribramsky rounds the bases after hitting a home run for the St. Andrew’s Scots.

The late game between North Broward Prep and St. Andrew’s School wasn’t as close, ending 14-4. The Eagles (North Broward) scored multiple runs in every inning but the second en route to a 14-4 victory that ended with a walk-off two-run home run from Nathaneal Coupet. It was the Georgia Tech commit’s eighth big fly of the season, and almost his second of the game — Coupet hit the scoreboard for a triple in the third.

It’s been an incredible power-hitting year for Coupet, but he never really intended for any of it to happen.

“Last year, I got into the hitting home run stuff because I thought it was cool,” Coupet said. “This year, I tried to stay short to the ball and get my average up. But doubles from last year are turning into home runs this year because I started getting stronger.”

As one-sided as the final score was, it could easily be said that St. Andrew’s played the better game for 3 1/2 innings. Three of the Eagles’ first six runs came off an error that would have ended the inning, and the Scots were finding plenty of barrels early on. Ethan Pribramsky homered in the second to ignite the offense, and a three-run fourth made the game a two-run affair.

“The way we started our season to the way we finished, we’ve improved greatly,” Scots manager Alan Sharkey said after the game. “Our stick, our at-bats got a lot better. Our approaches got a lot better. We started squaring up the baseball a lot more… If we’re healthy next year, we’re definitely going to make a run.”

North Broward finally put up a six spot in the fourth, which set up the Coupet go-homer. Riley Luft also had a multi-hit day, including a triple. Coupet, Luft and Gian De Castro scored three runs apiece.

The Eagles will host Coral Springs Charter in the district final on Thursday, and neither club is taking their opponent lightly heading into what is essentially a mock regional game.”

“This time of year, anything can happen,” Eagles manager Brian Campbell said. “We’ve got to play our best baseball, and I don’t think we did that for a few innings. This should be a wake-up call for us.”

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