NAPLES - All season long, Charlotte High School baseball coach Lavell Cudjo preached about hitting in the clutch for a team that had trouble all season doing it.
Wednesday, in the quarterfinals of the Region 7A-3 baseball championships against Gulf Coast, Cudjo could only watch as again that clutch hit never arrived.
Instead he watched as Konnor Stone pitched a complete-game two-hit shutout and a first inning RBI single by Emil Valenzuela held up as Gulf Coast held on for a 1-0 victory.
Stone seemed to get stronger as the game progressed as he struck out seven and walked two, one intentionally. He also induced eight groundball outs.
"I was trying to get ahead and let the defense make the plays and they did," Stone said. "When the pressure increased I hunkered down."
Charlotte put runners in scoring position four times, but Stone wiggled out of trouble as the Tarpons went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and never got a runner to reach third.
"It's situation hitting. Both pitchers did a good job but you have to score to win. We played an even game but they did what you have to do," Cudjo said. "We had our opportunities to score, we just didn't get it done."
Gulf Coast (20-9) earned its margin for victory when Justin Mattia led off with a single and was bunted to second. After Jake Thorne reached on an infield hit, Valenzuela singled to center to score Mattia for the game's only run.
The Sharks threatened in the third, but centerfielder Cade Reich gunned down Konnor Stone at the plate off another Valenzuela single.
Meanwhile, Stone was dominant on the hill as the defense did a good job backing him up, especially in the third when Valenzuela and Matthew Geller made great plays in the infield to squash a potential threat.
"Konnor is a strike thrower and we've played great defense all year," said Gulf Coast coach Pete Garcia. "Those plays in the third were the turning point. I think those plays subdued them a bit."
Charlotte starter Kyle Machado settled in after the first for a solid five innings, allowing six hits and two walks while striking out two.
Kevin Conway struck out the side in the sixth to give Charlotte a chance, but a two-out walk was followed by pinch-hitter John Busha's force out to end the game.
Valenzuela had two hits for Gulf Coast, as did Zach Stenberg from the No. 8 slot.
Cudjo said Charlotte (15-10) had a lot to be proud of this season. Though there are many who are leaving the program (with four going on to college ball), the future looks bright.
"I'm going to miss my seniors. I'll be watching them as they progress," Cudjo said. "We have some good underclassmen coming in. We had a good season, played some tough teams, won some games we should have lost and vice-versa. That's baseball."
GULF COAST 1, CHARLOTTE 0
Charlotte 000 000 0 - 0 2 1
Gulf Coast 100 000 x - 1 6 2
Batteries: Kyle Machado, Kevin Conway (6) and Aaron Martins, Konnor Stone and Griffin Hacker. WP: Stone, LP: Machado. Top hitters: Emil Valenzuela (GC) 2-3, RBI, Zach Stenberg (GC) 2-2. Records: CHS 15-10, GC 20-9.