The senior outfielder hits towering home run to put Thunder in control on way to 7-1 win.
When Austin Brinling batted with runners on second and third base and two outs in the second inning, he failed to come through.
However, when the Out-of-Door Academy senior outfielder had the identical situation two innings later, he came through in a big way.
Brinling hit a three-run homer, his first of the season, to break a tie and send the Thunder to the Class 3A-District 5 title with a 7-1 decision over Saint Stephen’s on Saturday afternoon at Taylor Emmons Field.
“It means everything to me,” Brinling said. “I was just waiting for my turn. Finally, rise up and win a district championship.”
The victory capped a long, but productive day of baseball for both the Thunder and Falcons. Both teams had to win semifinal round games earlier in the day.
Out-of-Door defeated Largo Indian Rocks Christian, 10-4. The Falcons needed eight innings to knock off St. Petersburg Northside Christian, 5-4.
It was the first district title for the Thunder (23-4) since 2015. With it comes a home game Tuesday in the regional semifinals against Fort Myers Southwest Florida Christian.
“It was a long day and a good one,” Thunder coach Tim Orlosky said. “The conversation in the locker room was the grittiest and dirtiest team was going to come out on top of this one today. It was nice. It was good to see us perform well even when the conditions weren’t favorable for us.”
For the Falcons, it was the first time they played for a district title in 10 years. The team’s eight seniors will get a chance to play in a regional game Tuesday at Fort Myers Canterbury.
“Good experience for them,” said Saint Stephen’s coach Mike Verrill, who took over midway through the season.
After ODA opened the scoring on a run-scoring single by Tyler Colditz in the second inning, the Falcons (18-7) tied the game in the top of the fourth on an RBI groundout by Max Runde.
The Thunder used the outstanding pitching of seldom-used freshman Josh Cone and outstanding defensive plays from Brinling in center field, Julien Brown in right, Aidan Marino at second base and Colditz at first until their bats came around.
A Carter Dierdorf single, a Saint Stephen’s error and a wild pitch put runners on second and third with two outs for Brinling again.
Seeing a steady diet of breaking pitches, the University of Florida-bound Brinling got into a fastball count and did not miss, sending a towering fly ball over the right field fence to make it 4-1.
“I still stuck to my approach,” Brinling said. “I knew they were going to throw me a bunch of off-speed pitches. I just stayed patient. Then I got into a fastball count and turned on it.”
“The kid is a winner,” Orlosky said of Brinling. “The reason that happens is he is such a good team guy. He never quits because he’s playing for the guys around him. He’s a tremendous leader in our dugout. It’s been an absolute pleasure to have him out here for the past four years.”
Out-of-Door added three more runs in the sixth inning, which was more than enough for Cone. The left-hander worked into the seventh inning, allowing two hits, three walks and one run.
“That was a heckuva performance, that’s for sure,” said Orlosky, who used his Nos. 1 and 2 pitchers Austin Kessler and Nick Romagnola in the semifinal game.
“He’s a young guy with a ton of talent. That’s probably his best game all year. He was really good. That Saint Stephen’s team is a good ballclub. For him to do that to them, it’s a credit to Josh.”
Mason Kolbe got the final two outs for ODA.