ORLANDO, Fla. – A come-from-behind win on the final day of the regular season kept Orlando’s Olympia High School atop the MaxPreps national high school baseball rankings this week.
The No. 1 Titans became just the second team in Central Florida history to make it through the regular season without a blemish on its record. But it’s an elusive trip to the state final four that would be most satisfying as playoff qualifiers get underway this week.
The Titans face Ocoee on Wednesday in their Class 8A, District 3 opener, just four days after local rival Dr. Phillips had their backs against the wall late in the season finale.
Olympia scored seven runs in the final three innings to win 9-5 (in eight innings) and improve to 100-12-1 since 2012, which happens to be the last time Olympia went unbeaten before losing in the region title game to finish 29-1.
(Read more about Olympia’s win over Dr. Phillips at Orlando Sentinel)
“They just believe they’re going to win,” Olympia coach Chuck Schall said. “Even at the end there when we’re down, there’s not a guy on that bench that doesn’t think we’re going to come back.”
Olympia has seen its share of close games this year as 13 of them have been decided by two runs or less, including a 4-3 win in 10 innings at Ocoee on March 6.
Schall, in his second year guiding the program, has stressed throughout the season how talk of national No. 1 rankings and an unbeaten regular season has been kept to a minimum as they’ve remained focused on finishing things off in the postseason.
Should the Titans manage to make school history by playing for a state championship it’ll come by way of a group that’s largely grown together through the ranks over the past four years, featuring eight players already committed to college programs.
UCF commit Juan Hillman called this year’s group of Titans the best team he’s ever been around, noting how much they’ve matured from a year ago when it went 25-3 while being led by Nick Gordon, a first round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft.
“This is probably our sixth or seventh close game like this, but we just always stay up in the dugout and make sure that if someone makes an out that the next person picks them up,” Hillman said following the win over Dr. Phillips. “We just kept telling ourselves we weren’t losing this game.”
If Olympia was starting to take momentum by the time they tied the game at 5-5 in the top of the seventh, they squeezed any life left from the Panthers when Hillman led off the top of the eighth with a chopper down the first base line which bounced off the left side of the face of first baseman Cormac Holbrook.
Holbrook walked off the field under his own power as blood dripped from a cut beneath his eye. Then Olympia’s bats came to life as RBI shots from Cameron Montgomery, Jordan Morrow, Drenis Ozuna and Michael Byrne salvaged the unbeaten celebration.
Jaylyn Whitehead took the mound to face the final three batters in the lineup, striking out the eighth and ninth spots to help secure the comeback despite Dr. Philips holding a 5-2 lead after five innings and a 5-3 lead after six.
It was a game Dr. Phillips had held firmly in its possession for much of the way but let slip away due to costly errors, and one that Olympia has learned to snatch back from the jaw of defeat throughout the course of a season.
Now if only they can survive a postseason journey that is likely to be just as challenging.