The saying ‘it’s tough to beat a team three times’ is true in many sports, but especially baseball where good pitching can tip the scales.
Oak Hall had defeated visiting Eagle’s View (Jacksonville) by scores of 11-0 and 13-8 during the regular season, yet entering the bottom of the seventh inning in Tuesday’s Class 2A-Region 1 Quarterfinal the Eagles were trailing, 5-4.
However, two walks and a two-run error by the center fielder gave Oak Hall a 6-5 win at Roger Maris Field to send the Eagles (18-5) on to the next round of the 2A state playoffs.
Senior Neil Ruth didn’t want his season to end. He came to the plate with two on and one out and his team down by a run.
“I just wanted to come out and make good contact with it, and not do more than I needed to do, just make solid contact,” Ruth said. “We’ve been working on it all week at practice, hitting it to the other side, hitting it to where we want to hit it. I wasn’t trying to pull an outside pitch or do anything special, just playing baseball.”
Ruth (2-for-4, 2 doubles, 1 RBI), who bats ninth in the line-up, drilled a pitch into the gap in right center field which went off of the glove of the center fielder, scoring freshman Aaron Akins and courtesy runner and fellow senior Andrew McManis for the dramatic win.
“We do not quit,” Ruth said. “We’ve had many games where we’ve come back in the last inning. For us seniors, that means a lot because I know the guys below me, the juniors and stuff, they don’t want our season to end. We also want to win the final game like coach always says.”
Oak Hall trailed all game, including a 5-2 deficit entering the bottom of the third inning.
“I thought our guys kept battling,” said Oak Hall coach Kevin Maris. “We didn’t get the hits that we needed to in certain situations. I thought we could have made this game a lot bigger score than what we had, I mean we had runners in scoring position almost every inning it seemed like and we just couldn’t get the hit that we needed to have, but you’re going to have games like that. Luckily the guys stuck to business.”
Senior Jack Kuzmicki also played a key role, entering the game on the mound in relief of starter Troy Freeman in the third inning and retiring the final nine batters he faced, including five strikeouts during that span.
“He came in and threw an outstanding three to four innings for me and for a senior like Kuzmicki to come in and shut the door and give us a chance late, and Neil Ruth, what can you say, had a great game,” Maris said. “You can’t scorch the ball any harder than he hit it. It was no easy play. I didn’t think he was getting to the ball and he got to it. That ball was scorched so hard that I don’t think he was expecting it to be hit that hard.”
It was scored an error but was close to being a hit.
“You can flip that either way because that was a scorched hit, but all I know is I’d take the W over the E,” Maris said with a laugh. “It’s a judgment call either way.”
Another judgment call almost cost Oak Hall the game.
In the top of the third inning with one out, Eagle’s View junior Brenden Brunson singled in two runs. However, the second runner was tagged out initially until the home plate umpire ruled obstruction on Eagles’ catcher Brody Beaupre.
“I wasn’t too happy about that,” Maris said. “He felt Brody was straddling the line and we teach our catchers to either give them the inside or the outside part of the plate so you’re either on the inside of the line or the outside of the line. He had the ball. It wasn’t a question that he didn’t have the ball and the guy came in standing up a little bit on his own and I thought it was kind of an unfortunate play because it gave them that run that could have cost us the whole thing.”
The Eagles have been a really good hitting team this year, but against the Warriors (14-10) they only had six hits and left 10 runners on base.
While there’s room for improvement the most important saying when it comes to the state playoffs is ‘survive and advance.’
Oak Hall will travel to 2A state runner-up North Florida Christian (Tallahassee) for a regional semifinal with a little momentum.
“We’ve had momentum all year and I think our mental game is getting stronger, and to have one of these games to go into the next regional game is just going to make us that much stronger,” Maris said. “They realize some of the mistakes that they might have made at their plate appearances and they can tidy that up. A couple of hits here and there and it’s a little different ball game than what it ended up being today.”
Tuesday, May 9 – Results
Class 2A-Region 1 Quarterfinals
3 Oak Hall 6, 6 Eagle’s View (Jacksonville) 5
Class 4A-Region 1 Quarterfinals
5 Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) 1, 4 Santa Fe (Alachua) 0 – Raiders’ season ends at 18-10
Class 5A-Region 1 Quarterfinals
2 Columbia (Lake City) 14, 7 Pine Forest (Pensacola) 0 (5)