They were two of the top high school baseball teams in Florida, which meant they were among the best in the country.

Sarasota High and Venice High, located 18 miles apart, were locked in an extra-inning, scoreless playoff game in 2012. Who knew two of the players in that game would be teammates with the Portland Sea Dogs in 2017?

In the top of the ninth, Sarasota center fielder Danny Mars singled and eventually scored for a 1-0 lead.

But in the bottom of the ninth, Venice first baseman Nick Longhi – “a great hitter; we could never get him out,” said Sarasota Coach Clyde Metcalf – hit an RBI single to left-center, tying the game. Longhi raced for a double but Mars threw him out.

“I’m not the fastest runner so you can’t give Dan too much credit for that,” Longhi joked.

In the bottom of the 11th, Longhi came up, one out and the bases loaded.

“I hit a bleeder over the second baseman’s head,” Longhi said.

The bloop single was enough for a 2-1 win. Longhi, a junior, eventually celebrated the first of two state titles. From there he expected to accept a scholarship to Louisiana State.

Mars’ high school career ended in 2012. His college future was uncertain, with no scholarship offer.

Fast forward to June 2014.

“I got a text from Danny, asking me if I was in Lowell (a Red Sox minor league team),” Longhi said. “I said ‘yeah.’

“He said ‘good. I’ll see you in three days. The Red Sox just drafted me.’ ”

The rivals have been teammates ever since, including this year with the Sea Dogs.

‘Weather built for baseball’

Longhi, 21, declined the LSU scholarship when the Red Sox drafted him in 2013. He is Boston’s 14th-best prospect, according to Baseball America.

Mars, 23, eventually went to junior college and was drafted in the sixth round in 2014. Through Friday he’s batting .317, fifth-best in the Eastern League. He’s also a league all-star.

It may be rare that players from nearby high schools are on the same pro team but it’s not unprecedented, considering they are from Florida.

Florida, California and Texas are the top breeding grounds for pro baseball. Of the 1,071 American major league players last season, 43 percent were born in those states.

“Our weather is built for baseball,” said Metcalf, the Sarasota coach.

And those figures don’t include players who moved there.

Longhi is a native of Springfield, Massachusetts. His family moved to Florida when he was an infant. Mars grew up in Maryland. His family moved to Florida with their son’s baseball future in mind.

“I didn’t want to go,” Mars said. “I was 15. I had my friends. I was comfortable … Looking back, if I stayed there, I probably wouldn’t have played baseball in college. I’m so thankful.”

Mars batted cleanup as a freshman on his Maryland varsity team. As a sophomore, he competed just to make the Sarasota junior varsity.

Longhi immersed himself in baseball, playing on school and travel teams – “up to 100 games a year,” he said.

Longhi got his first taste of baseball in New England when he arrived in Portland this April.

“The first thing I saw was snow piled up on the sides of the road, 4 to 5 feet high,” he said.

Different paths to the same team

For Mars, coming to Portland was a reminder of baseball in the north, even in the mid-Atlantic region.

“We began (baseball tryouts) in March and it was so cold,” said Mars, who received baseball culture shock in Sarasota. “We were practicing for three months before the season started. We had a weight-lifting class designated for baseball.”

Mars got stronger. He was a varsity starter as a junior and broke out as a senior.

“Everybody on our team is going. ‘where did this guy come from?’ He was their best player,” Longhi said.

Mars hoped to play for a big college program but only had offers to walk on at lesser ones. He opted for Chipolo College, a two-year school in Florida’s panhandle. He kept improving, attracting college and pro scouts.

“He always worked on his game,” Metcalf said. “He’s a self-made player.”

Longhi had his offer from LSU but talked to pro scouts. Before the 2013 draft, Baseball America speculated he could go in the top five rounds. But teams figured Longhi was headed to LSU and he wasn’t picked until the third day of the draft, in the 30th round.

“I stopped watching after the second day,” Longhi said. When he was drafted, “I was in a batting cage with a metal bat, getting ready to go to LSU.”

Boston swayed him with a $440,000 signing bonus, an amount associated with a fourth-round pick.

Now Longhi and Mars are both in Portland, five years removed from their last game against each other. Mars doesn’t forget. When I first asked Mars if he knew Longhi, Mars nodded.

“He’s the guy with the walk-off hit that ended my season,” Mars said, adding with a smile, “but I also threw him out at second that game.”

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

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Twitter: @ClearTheBases