GREEN COVE SPRINGS – While many coaches choose to ease into a season, there are those with Clay Blue Devil’s Head Coach Matt Lewis’ philosophy: go find the biggest kid in the room and give them your best shot to show who is boss.
In their season opener on February 19, that kid was the 2018 district 6-1A champs and 2017 Class 1A champ, the Union County Fightin’ Tigers, 15-5 in 2018, from Lake Butler.
Union County came out swinging in the top of the first and quickly went up 2-0.
“It was a great way to open the season” said Lewis, who guided his Blue Devils to the 6A Final Four last season. “But that was not a traditional Union County Team.”
Lewis was referring to the four graduated seniors as well as a starter who was held off the field with an illness. Once the Blue Devils shook off the season opener jitters, their bats awake in a huge way as Clay would go on to shut down the Tigers in 5 innings, 12-2.
“My team was solid,” said Lewis. “If we don’t score early, who knows what happens. It’s awesome. We only had one girl who didn’t get on base all night.”
After several warm spring days, a cold front pushed through bringing rain early in the day and kicking the winds up at game time. The strong northeast gusts would keep any balls far from going out, so the game quickly became placement hitting and guessing where the squalls would push the ball. After the home crowd held its collective breath through the opening half inning watching the visiting Tigers put a quick couple runs on the board, it was an adjusted defense that got the team out of the inning and grabbing bats. Leadoff batter Marianne McDonald would start the show with a nothing special single, then steal her way to second, watch Union County commit a throwing error trying to get her out, and work her way to third base.
“It’s tough working practicing against a 62-63 MPH pitcher all week, then come in against a slower pitcher,” said Lewis. “We stayed back, got our timing down, started grooving the ball hard, and some of my hitters really hit that ball very well.”
The no-out scoring threat was more than enough to get the crowd roaring.
Next up was Kylee Stacy with what may have been an easy Union County out, but overthrew first base, allowing McDonald to score and Stacy making her way all the way over to third base. With Morgan Silvis at the plate, a rip down the third base line for a stand-up double tied the score as Stacy crossed the plate with no outs. After the first out, Sydney Lewis was hit with the ball being thrown as she going to first and Silvis scored run number three. As the inning ended, Clay left a runner stranded, but not before reclaiming the lead 3-2, getting the magic Mojo running in their favor.
“We did what we needed to and got everything squared away,” said Lewis. “I’m excited about this. I’m loving it!”
After quickly disposing of the Tigers in the top of the second, the Clay bats were back at work. With two outs, Morgan Silvis belted a 2-run RBI center field double to keep the drive alive. Kailah McKean followed suite with her own stand-up triple RBI, putting Clay up 6-2. As the batting lineup worked back to the top with two runners on, Marianne McDonald lit it up again with a 2 RBI double, Clay up 8-2.
With another Union County overthrow, Clay found themselves up 10-2, still at bat, and a new Union County pitcher. On her second pitch, she caught Kailah McKean on the elbow putting Clay runners on first and second, who on the next pitch that went in the dirt, stole their way to second and third. Sydney Lewis walked in four pitches loading up the bases. With a wild pitch, Kylee Stacy stole home, 9-2.
Before the Tigers could stop the bleeding, it was 11-2 going into the top of the fourth.
In the bottom of the fourth, a Madison Alexander deep ball, that on any other night would have been out of the park, scored the last Clay run as Alexander RBI doubled, 12-2.
“We preach every game counts. Every game means something,” said Lewis. “It doesn’t matter if it’s district, non-district, if it’s a rival, we have to come focused every game. That’s the mentality side of it.”
Adding salt to the wound was Pitcher Morgan Crutcher striking out the final out, as the Tiger batter swung for all she had. The K would be the icing on the cake for the Blue Devils on what could be one of the best opening nights in some time for Clay.
“Having three seniors that have played really helps out. It’s going to be a fun crew this year,” said Lewis.