Ridaught: Hit me with your best shot

Oak Hall's Jack Kuzmicki at bat against Trenton on Friday.
Photo by C.J. Gish

Heading into the final week of the regular season there is one team in the area that has been a model of consistency at the plate.

In fact, they’ve been that way in back-to-back seasons.

Last year, the Oak Hall School baseball team finished the season with a .350 batting average. With all nine starters back, there was a chance they could be even better.

This past Friday, the Eagles pounded out 19 hits in a 16-6 win at home against Trenton.

That boosted their average from .393 to .401, giving head coach Kevin Maris one of his best-hitting clubs.

“I would have to say that it definitely ranks up there with some of the best I’ve ever had,” Maris said. “I’ve had a lot of quality hitting ball clubs in the past but these guys seem to be in a zone this year.”

A total of six players are batting .400 or better through 18 games.

“We have players this year that desire to get better every day out,” Maris said. “This helps with their preparation for their practice and game At Bats. Instead of guys just taking batting practice and hacking at pitches and playing Homerun Derby with each other in the cages and out on the field for batting practice every day, we have them think about their approaches and situations that may occur during the games.”

Maris said they work on their craft daily.

“They probably get about 50+ swings in a day,” he said. “Our philosophy is ‘hit to win every at bat.’ We hit fastball and curveball combinations throughout the week and a lot of tee work on the field.”

Leading the way for the Eagles (14-4) is Jack Kuzmicki, who is sixth in the state of Florida and 70th nationally in hitting (.614 batting average).

“Jack just flat out hits,” Maris said. “He takes every at bat like he wants to do damage and make an impact on whatever the situation may be.”

Perhaps even more impressive is that the senior has driven in a whopping 42 runs in only 18 games.

In 73 plate appearances, he has a .644 on base percentage and leads the team with 35 hits, three home runs, and a 1.035 slugging percentage.

Kuzmicki, who led the team with a .534 average last season, certainly has the numbers to attract offers to play at the next level except for one thing.

“He’s a genius,” Maris said. “I don’t know if he wants to play at the next level. He’s very capable of playing at the next level, but he’s engineer smart. He’s got some goals in mind. Who knows, I mean with the right offer. I think he can hit at any level. He’s proven he can hit against anybody we’ve faced all year long. He just keeps hitting.”

Earlier in the season Kuzmicki, who is one of only three seniors on the team, wasn’t the best hitter based on batting average. That belonged to junior Jackson Beach.

According to MaxPreps, Beach was leading the country in hitting the first half of the season with a .700-plus average.

He has cooled off since but is still batting .500 in 78 plate appearances and has two home runs as the Eagles’ leadoff hitter.

“Jackson has an exceptional eye at the plate,” Maris said. “He’s a very patient hitter and has quality approaches every plate appearance. His patience at the plate shows in his 18 walks and that has led him to have an on base percentage of .615. When your leadoff guy can do that, it sets you up for success in the majority of your games throughout the season.”

Jackson leads the team with 37 runs this season and is second behind Kuzmicki with 29 hits. He has a .615 on base percentage.

His twin brother, Harrison, is batting .400, which actually ranks tied for fifth on the team with senior Neil Ruth based on 18 games played.

Sophomore Gavin Jones (.440, four doubles, three triples) and junior Jack Steen (.415, 24 RBI, team-leading 13 doubles) are right behind Jackson Beach.

As a team, the Eagles are averaging 10.4 runs on 11 hits per game.

Those are big reasons why Oak Hall is in the mix for a postseason bid.

In last week’s FHSAA rankings, the Eagles were ranked third in 2A-Region 1 behind 2A No. 1 St. Johns Country Day (Orange Park) and state runner-up North Florida Christian (Tallahassee).

Three of their four losses have been by a combined four runs, including a 4-3 loss in nine innings at Class 5A Gainesville on April 12.

Oak Hall, which has scored 10 or more runs nine times this year, including a season-high 27 against St. John Lutheran (Ocala) on March 8, travels to Mount Dora Christian at 6 p.m. on Tuesday looking to avenge one of their losses.

The Eagles close out the regular season at home on Thursday at 4:15 p.m. against Eastside and will enter next week’s 2A-District 4 tournament as the No. 1 seed.

Enjoying our local sports coverage? Get Mike Ridaught's twice weekly sports newsletter in your inbox.
Sports Newsletter Form
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments