ORANGE PARK - Like a prize fight with two heavyweights going at it toe to toe, the 7-2 Oakleaf Knights looked ready to take on local powerhouse 8-1 St. Johns Country Day Spartans in St. John’s …
ORANGE PARK - Like a prize fight with two heavyweights going at it toe to toe, the 7-2 Oakleaf Knights looked ready to take on local powerhouse 8-1 St. Johns Country Day Spartans in St. John’s backyard. Through five and a half innings, each team would add on a run or two, looking like this matchup would go down to the wire.
That was until the host Spartans came up to bat in the bottom of the fifth inning. Before the bottom of the inning, the Spartans were up 4-2. Tyce Moore got things started with a single to right field, followed by Kody Daneault with a single to put Moore into scoring position. After a fly out, Vic Patel walked off four pitches from Oakleaf’s Paddy Smith loading the bases. Jordan Taylor came in to pinch hit for Kyle Boylston and began the rolling over of the Knights with a right field line drive scoring Moore and Daneault, 6-2.
“We lost some big guys from last season and had some 10th graders really step up,” said Spartans Head Coach Tom Lucas. “The main thing we are trying to do is not strike out. We might not have as much power all through the lineup, but we are hitting like .440 as a team because they just don’t give at-bats away.”
The Spartans racked up eight runs in the to shut down the Knights in five innings with the 10 run mercy rule, 12-2.
Early on, Oakleaf went three batters up, three batters out to start the game on a low note. When St. Johns came to bat, Brad Hodges set the tempo by taking the first pitch and going to center field for a single. Hodges would use an RBI single by Daneault line driving to left field to open the Spartan scoring, 1-0. The Knights again went three up, three out, then got some serious energy off their defense when Knights shortstop Jorden Clarke popped a double play to halt the Spartans advance.
In the top of the third, the Knights rolled that energy at the plate with a dropped pitch that got Steven Farina safely onboard first base, made his way over to second with a ground-out and another dropped pitch to help find his way to third base. Farina finished the trip around the bases with a center field grounder with a Leonel Diaz RBI single, 1-1.
Back up at the plate in the bottom of the third, Hodges on a 2-1 count, took the fourth pitch from Oakleaf’s Smith and launched a rocket over the center field fence to put the Spartans up 2-1 to close the third. Oakleaf again struggled to connect with the arm of Spartans hurler Finn Howell, who finished the night striking out nine Knights, and walking no one.
“Our pitching is as good as anybody,” said Lucas, “When you have Brad and Finn, and Finn hasn’t lost in two years while everyone is talking about Brad Hodges. When you can run those two guys out there, you know you’re going to be in the game.”
The Knights went three up, three out to close the top of the fourth. The Spartans came back with runs from Daneault and Vic Patel to go ahead 4-1.
In the top of the fifth with one out, Oakleaf caught a break when Clarke was hit by the first pitch from Howell, then took advantage of a Howell wild pitch to get to second. Farina followed up with a shot to the short stop who couldn’t get a handle on it, errored, and moved Clarke to third. With two outs, Howell launched another wild pitch scoring Clarke, 4-2. The Knights struck out to close the inning, but looked like they found a way to claw their way back in. That was before the Spartans bats burst on scene.
After the two runs to go up 6-2, Austin Willis went to the mound for Oakleaf to try his arm at stopping the Spartans. Things didn’t look good as the first batter, Isaiah Mamea, walked in four pitches loading the bases. After a fly out for two outs, it looked like the Knights could hold out and maybe get their bats hot.
Once again, Brad Hodges came in with a hot stick and smacked a two RBI single to center, scoring Patel and Kyle Boylston. The throw to home opened the door for Hodges to move to second and Mamea to third, 8-2. After Howell walked to load the bases, Oakleaf’s Willis walked in a run when Moore watched all four pitches go by for balls, 9-2.
“It’s tough,” said Oakleaf Head Coach Matthew Carter. “They do a good job competing and they hit a couple balls that weren’t hit well, but were well placed.”
On the mound, Willis was relieved by Ashton Paseiro who gave up a two RBI double to Daneault going to left field, 11-2. The final straw was a Shawn Andrade single to left field, scoring Moore to end the game 12-2.
“We just go back to working hard, work on the little details that we do, that’s all we to have do. Win the little details tomorrow at practice, prepare for the next game,” said Carter. “We are just working on improving each day. Day-by-day, you have to get better, and I think going forward, just win the next one. Win the next one and compete. One game at a time.”
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