a group of men standing on top of a baseball field
Coral Shores head baseball coach Tony Hammon listens to a conversation between the umpires and another official who called the April 30 playoff game in the fifth inning against Keys Gate due to weather and field conditions. Coral Shores lost the game by one run. JOY SMITH/Purely Joyous Photography

In another universe, the Marathon Dolphins and Coral Shores Hurricanes did battle last Thursday for a district championship in one of the best in-county baseball matchups in Keys history. In this universe, Mother Nature and the Florida High School Athletic Association had other plans.

Coral Shores defeated Somerset South Homestead 14-2 in a quarterfinal game on April 29. The ’Canes made short work of Somerset, defeating them in 4½ innings with 11 hits, including a triple and a grand slam home run off the bat of junior Campbell Lavoie. Lavoie drove in five of Coral Shores’ runs with senior Zeke Myers driving in four. Myers was 2 for 2 at the plate with a home run of his own, plus a double. Ben Friedman connected for a single and a double and Donovan Thiery, Eddie Holly, Riley O’Berry, Grady Temkin and Dominic Batista had base hits in the mercy-rule win. Grayden Ross, Tate Brumbalow and O’Berry combined on the mound for 9 strikeouts and 6 walks in a no-hitter that knocked Somerset South Homestead out of the playoffs and propelled the ’Canes  into the semifinals the following night. 

Coral Shores’ competition against the Knights of Keys Gate would also end early, but not because one team was dominating. After a scoreless first inning, Keys Gate struck first, scoring 1 run in the second. Coral Shores immediately responded with 2 runs when AJ Putetti singled, Thiery walked, then Myers and Lavoie singled to put the Hurricanes in the lead, which they held until the fourth inning. 

Three well-placed hits resulted in 3 runs, giving the Knights the 2-run lead. In inning 5, Coral Shores began to chip away at the deficit, with 1 run scored after a pair of doubles from Temkin and Thiery. Thiery took over pitching duties from Lavoie in the bottom of the fifth, but midway through the third batter, the game was stopped when lightning was detected several miles away. 

Coach Tony Hammon said the teams and fans sheltered in a safe location for about 45 minutes without seeing lightning or hearing thunder. 

“The guys and parents were obviously ready to play,” Hammon said. “After 40 minutes, I walked over to the Keys Gate coach and said, ‘We can’t have the game end this way. It’s a district game. This should be delayed, let’s come back tomorrow to finish.’ He wouldn’t say no to that. But I also knew he was in the lead.”

Coral Shores senior Ben Friedman strolls the dugout with play suspended against Keys Gate on April 30. JOY SMITH/Purely Joyous Photography

With the game expected to resume, the Hurricanes began to warm up. But rain began to fall on the field, and play never restarted. With 5 innings of play in the books and wet conditions, a Greater Miami Athletic Conference official ruled the game was over. And so was the season for the Hurricanes, which had six seniors on the team.

“Was it a cheap way to have a season end? Absolutely,” Hammon said. “The guys were certainly discouraged and angry, as were the fans. Some of the fans would have loved for me to step in and do something to keep the game going, but that possibility didn’t exist.”

While the rules state weather can end a game, so long as it’s past the fifth inning, Hammon said he’d like to see an exception for postseason play. 

“I don’t see that happening, but it’s worth pursuing,” he said. 

Two hours away on the same night, heartbreak struck the Middle Keys, as newly crowned South Florida Baseball Conference champion Marathon took on Somerset Silver Palms after a first-round bye.

Marathon started junior Mason Thornton on the mound. Thornton would complete 4 innings, fanning 5, walking 1 and allowing 2 hits before handing the ball off to senior Dylan Ziels. Ziels was not finished warming up in the bullpen when the barometer dropped with Somerset up 3-1. 

In the bottom of the fifth inning, Marathon was facing a two-out situation without a runner on base. Jack Chapman and Tiago Rivero walked, and Thornton singled on a hard ground ball. Chapman would score on the throw, but Rivero was thrown out advancing to third for the final out of the inning. Things still looked hopeful for the Fins, down 3-2 with their ace on the mound and a .387 hitter, also Ziels, coming up next to the plate. 

Ziels quickly dispatched three batters in the top of the sixth and did not disappoint at the plate with a hard double to left field. Just as Ziels reached first, the first drops of what would become a downpour came. Neither the rain nor the game stopped as Ziels advanced to third in a series of groundouts and a walk, but was left stranded in scoring position at the end of the inning. 

With the game delayed due to rain, Marathon’s entire roster and coaching staff went to work, tarping and raking the home-field clay.

“Thirty minutes into the flipping of the field, the umpire came up to us and said we could go ahead and have our pitcher start getting loose,” coach Joey Gonzalez said. Fifteen minutes later, that message changed.

“I really don’t know what happened,” Gonzalez said. “All I know is that a call came in to the opposing team’s coach, (and) that coach then delivered another message to the officials. … After that phone call, the umpire called me over and told me he shouldn’t be in a position to have a lawsuit against him because of a high school baseball game.”

“Both teams and everybody in the stands – nobody thought that game was going to get called. Both teams were warming up,” he added. “When we finished off that sixth inning, the field conditions were much worse than what they were when they called the game.”

Gonzalez said he agreed with Hammon that while the statewide game completion rules make enough sense for regular-season play, there should be “strong consideration” for a rule change to prevent a season being cut short due to weather. But after days of reflection, the termination did nothing to dim his pride in his team and the response from the entire Florida Keys community – including an outpouring of social media support from fans, residents and even the rival Key West Conchs.

“It was something that needed to be said,” Gonzalez said. “Just knowing we are in this type of community where we all have each others’ backs.”

The heartbreaking 3-2 loss ended the Fins’ otherwise stellar season. Thornton and Ziels struck out 8 batters, walked 2 and allowed 4 hits in a powerful dual-pitching performance. Ziels ended up with 3 of Marathon’s 4 hits. Thornton singled for hit number 4.