Heading into Friday afternoon’s high school baseball game between P.K. Yonge and Oak Hall at Roger Maris Field, one might expect a high-scoring affair.
After all, the host Eagles were averaging 13.5 runs per game, while the Blue Wave were averaging almost 9.5 runs per game. Plus, Oak Hall beat PKY, 18-16, in its season opener last month.
But this is baseball, where you come to expect the unexpected.
And it was an unexpected, misplayed ball in the final inning that led the Blue Wave’s 3-2 win to split the two-game series.
Unexpected because Oak Hall coach Kevin Maris had just put in a new right fielder “for defensive purposes.”
With the score tied 2-2 in the top of the seventh, and with two outs and the bases empty, leadoff hitter Micah Gratto hit a fly ball to right field.
Freshman Aaron Akins had the ball bounce off his glove and it ricocheted into the right field corner.
“That’s a tough situation, he’s a ninth grader,” Maris said. “He slipped in the corner there, and what are you going to do? Luck of the ball, luck the way the ball bounces. Unfortunately, it went their way and not our way.”
By the time Akins hit his cut-off, Gratto showed no hesitation as P.K. Yonge coach Rob Brunson didn’t put the stop sign on as he was rounding third base. The relay throw home was just a little off and Gratto slid in safely to score what would prove to be the game-winning run.
“He’s hit for us all year long and when we needed the big hits, he’s come for us and that was huge,” Brunson said. “With Oak Hall, you’ve got to get them while you can and I figured that might be our last shot so, but it was a great slide.”
It was a big day for the sophomore transfer from Buchholz. He had two of the Blue Wave’s three hits and scored two of their three runs.
“If it’s the last out of the game and we need a run to score, I’m just going to run it out and see if something happens,” Gratto said. “And it did. It fell our way.”
Ironically, it was scored as a home run on MaxPreps, but after speaking with Maris “it was fairly routine,” meaning a four-base error scored the deciding run.
The game was built up as a potential offensive juggernaut between the two teams, but it was the pitching that stole the show.
Oak Hall’s Jack Steen (2-1) tossed a complete game three-hitter with four strikeouts while PKY’s Aiden Mansfield had a three-hitter until he was relieved in the sixth inning.
“Their guy, we’ve faced him before and he’s got a really good curveball,” Brunson said. “I knew he’d probably go deep in the game. Aiden Mansfield pitched a great game. He established his curve ball right off the bat.”
“I thought Jack Steen threw an outstanding game for us, I mean couldn’t throw any better,” said Oak Hall coach Kevin Maris. “We had some defensive blunders that helped get them a couple of runs that if we take care of our own business defensively it’s a different ball game.”
The Eagles (8-2) took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning.
With one out, junior Harrison Beach singled to center field, stole second and went to third on a throwing error. Senior Jack Kuzmicki, who entered the game with a .667 average in 37 plate attempts, singled Beach home for a 1-0 lead.
But the Eagles managed just one hit the rest of the game.
P.K. Yonge answered in the top of the second.
Junior Mack Todd singled to left field, and after a couple of wild pitches and with two outs, scored on an error by short shop Harrison Beach to tie the game 1-1.
Then, in the top of the third, Gratto doubled to right centerfield to lead off the inning and Jacob Pridgen’s sacrifice fly to right field brought him home to give the visiting Blue Wave (9-4) a 2-1 lead.
It stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth.
Kuzmicki reached on an error at third base and, following a single by Darion Medley, scored on a balk by relief pitcher Lane Sparkman, who would end up getting the win in relief to improve to 2-0.
P.K. Yonge, which went 3-0 for the week, will travel to St. Francis Catholic on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., while Oak Hall, which had a four-game winning streak snapped, hosts Mount Dora Christian Academy on Tuesday at 4:15 p.m.