—Standing on third base, Landon Langston was confident Zac Perkins would get his bunt down. It would all be down to Langston's secondary lead, one of those little things coaches preach that rarely gets the attention.
Langston's Florence (Ala.) High Falcons were tied 4-4 in the bottom of the eighth against The First Academy out of Orlando, their second straight extra innings affair at the National High School Invitational after outlasting Liberty Christian Academy on Wednesday. Langston had led off the inning by jumping on a fastball from the Royals' Dylan Bell, driving it over the center fielder's head for a double. After a sacrifice bunt moved him to third, up came Perkins.
"I saw that he gave bunt, so I've gotta get a good secondary (lead)," Langston said. "Perkins is great at handling the bat, great at bunting, so I knew he was probably going to get it down. I just got a big secondary and as soon as I saw it down, I went."
Perkins' bunt was a little more towards the pitcher than the Falcons would've liked, but it was good enough for Langston, who dashed home and slid in ahead of the tag from TFA catcher Jacob Jacome. Langston was soon swallowed up by a mob of jubilant teammates, the whole group then moving down to first base to likewise envelop Perkins.
"It was just a drag bunt, and (Langston) had to read it," Florence head coach Steve Garrett said. "It wasn't exactly placed perfectly. It was a close play, but we'll take it."
The Falcons had gotten to extra innings by climbing out of a 4-1 hole, scoring twice in the fourth and tying the game in the sixth on Braxton Garrett's bloop RBI single that just dropped in over the third baseman's head. Garrett, the Falcons' two-way star and son of the head coach, was playing despite coming down with a stomach ailment on Wednesday night, though he subsequently came out of the game after his single. It was his spot in the order where Perkins was hitting in the ninth.
Louisiana State recruit Cole Henry started the game for Florence, battling through five innings and allowing four runs on six hits, with five strikeouts. Henry bumped 94 mph early in the game, but his command wasn't its best, as he allowed four walks and hit a batter. Still, he limited the damage, stranding runners in scoring position in four of his five innings, including leaving the bases loaded in the third.
"(Henry's) ball was live," Garrett said. "He was leaving the ball up in the zone a little bit. That umpire was tough—he had a small strike zone. You had to really put in there. He struggled a little bit, but he got us far enough to where we needed to go."
The 5-4 win sends Florence to Friday's semifinals, ousting TFA, the 2014 NHSI champions. For a program looking to make a name for itself in Alabama, these two wins have been something to savor, with Garrett speaking of how the entire school has been watching the web streams of the games back home and how the congratulatory texts have been pouring in.
"Being from a not-so-big town, we may not be the biggest name in this tournament," Langston said. "There are some huge schools that've been here a lot. Just to come here and be the underdogs, it's just been an awesome experience really for our entire community."