Ridaught: Buchholz to play for its first state baseball title

(From left) Buchholz senior Anthony Wilkie, head coach Ron Brooks, senior Noah Hayse and junior J.J. Gardner, at its 6A state semifinals post-game interview session, will play for the state championship on Saturday
(From left) Buchholz senior Anthony Wilkie, head coach Ron Brooks, senior Noah Hayse and junior J.J. Gardner, at its 6A state semifinals post-game interview session, will play for the state championship on Saturday
Photo by Marty Pallman

The Buchholz baseball team is now one win away from its first state title in program history.

On Thursday at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, the top-seeded Bobcats (24-8) cruised to a 12-0 win against No. 4 seed Bloomingdale (Valrico) in the Class 6A state semifinals, scoring seven runs in the first inning in their first state semifinal in school history.

Buchholz will play No. 2-seed Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens) (22-7-1) at 11 a.m. on Saturday for the Class 6A state title.

Dwyer advanced with an 8-0 win against No. 3 seed Viera in the other state semifinal.

Saturday’s game will be broadcast online (audio only) with Marty Pallman and former Gator pitcher Jeff Cardozo, the father of senior center fielder/pitcher Austin Cardozo, on the call. Coverage begins at 10:50 a.m.

In the postgame press conference, Buchholz coach Ron Brooks talked about the tough schedule, which included a challenging game against Hagerty (Oviedo), a 1-0 win that sent Buchholz to its first-ever final four.

“The Hagerty game early in the week was a really tough game,” Brooks said. “We’ve been in the fire. There’s not a lot we haven’t seen or adversity we haven’t faced. I think moving forward for Saturday we’ll go out there and attack it like we did today (Thursday).”

Buchholz had to end an 0-for-8 streak in the regional finals, including a 10-8 heartbreaker to Winter Springs a year ago.

“It’s been a lot of hard work for sure,” said senior pitcher/first baseman Anthony Wilkie, a Clemson University signee. “We saw that loss last year in the region final and it really hurt us and I believe that has really given us a lot of motivation to come out here and win this whole thing.”

Buchholz has won 10 straight games, including four shutouts in the past five games.

Junior J.J. Gardner and senior Conner Brown combined on a two-hit shutout in Thursday’s state semifinals.

In the regional final, sophomore Aidan Kastensmidt threw six innings and allowed no runs on just four hits. Junior Wyatt Clarke pitched a scoreless seventh inning to pick up the save.

Kastensmidt (6 IP, 6H, 0R, 0BB, 10K) and Clarke combined on a 9-0 shutout against New Smyrna Beach in the first round of the playoffs.

Cardozo got the win in relief against Pace, a 3-2 win in the regional semifinals. He threw two innings and allowed no runs on two hits with three walks and two strikeouts.

Wilkie (1.1 IP, 1H, 1R, 0ER, 0BB, 1K) started the game on the mound, while Clarke threw 3.2 innings of relief and allowed an unearned run on one hit with one walk and three strikeouts.

“We’re fortunate enough to have a slew of arms that can go out there, and the biggest thing I can say about all of them is that they’re competitors,” Brooks said. “They want the baseball. They don’t shy away. They want it in big moments and also this guy next to me [senior catcher Noah Hayse] has done an incredible job. You look at the number of games we’ve played this year and I think he’s taken three games where he wasn’t behind the plate and the other three, he’s been there. He’s a rock back there.”

Hayse was 3-for-3 with three runs driven in on Thursday.

“Feeling good,” he said. “Just trying to get my pitch, see the ball. We’ve got a lot of guys that get a lot of hits that gives us energy. We’ll try to keep the momentum going.”

Both teams have similar offensive numbers.

Buchholz is batting .298, led by Hayse (.388) and junior Kai So (.353), while Dwyer is hitting .282 and is led by senior center fielder Jackson Miller (.442) and senior Bryce Jackson (.409).

“That regional final was a huge hurdle for us,” Brooks said. “I absolutely feel the pressure is off. I really, really do. We didn’t come down here to not win a state title, I don’t want to paint that picture, but I felt for our guys the win on Tuesday, you could see the body language, you could see the demeanor, you could see the freedom that they all came down here with and I think you saw us carry that on to this game. 

“Freedom of focus, I think is the best way to describe our demeanor today (Thursday) and I expect us to kind of come out the same way Saturday and get after it and see what we can do.”

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