Ridaught: Santa Fe hoping to get bounces this year

Santa Fe's Zane Starling, a University of North Florida signee, has a team-leading 46 strikeouts and .403 batting average.
Photo by C.J. Gish

Things did not get off to a great start for Santa Fe High School baseball coach Travis Yeckring.

Yeckring, who was a first-team All-State infielder at Buchholz and a member of the 2009 Santa Fe College state champion and national runner-up team, made his head coaching debut in 2020.

However, just nine games into the season, COVID-19 shut down the season.

But since the pandemic, Santa Fe has built a solid foundation.

Two years ago, the Raiders had their best winning percentage in school history (.913) following a 21-2 regular season. It marked just the third time in the last 15 years that Santa Fe had reached the 20-win mark.

In 2022, they won 20 games and another district title while advancing to the state playoffs for the second straight season.

However, both times the Raiders were bounced from the first round of the 4A state playoffs.

In 2021, Class 4A No. 3 Santa Fe lost at home to Arnold (Panama City) in the regional quarterfinals, 6-4, finishing the season at 23-3.

Last year, the Raiders (20-7) lost to Clay (Green Cove Springs), 12-9, in 10 innings in the 4A-Region 1 quarterfinals.

Santa Fe (15-7), which were guests on “The Prep Zone” sports show on 106.9 FM “I am Country” this past Wednesday, has a chance to get to 20 wins again this year. The challenging schedule will have them ready for the playoffs, which begin the first week of May with district tournament play.

“It’s kind of a mixed bag so far,” said Yeckring. “Everybody that we’ve lost to so far is ranked in the top 10 of their class so we’ve played a really tough schedule so I’m hoping that pays dividends down the stretch.”

The Raiders lost a pair of games to Class 4A No. 2 North Marion (Citra), including this past Tuesday’s 7-2 home loss, and they lost twice to Columbia (Lake City), which is currently ranked third in the state in Class 5A.

They split with Baker County (Glen St. Mary), which is 13th in 4A according to MaxPreps, and also lost to 5A No. 4 Clay (Green Cove Springs) and by one run to 7A No. 10 Forsyth Central (Cumming, GA).

University of North Florida signee Zane Starling
 (.403) and freshman Nate Robertson (.365) lead the Raiders at the plate. However, as a team, Santa Fe is batting just .256.

The secret to their success might just be their defense, which has a .956 fielding percentage, well above the national average (.890).

“I think this is one of the best defenses I’ve been around in a long time,” Yeckring said. “We’ve just got to continue to get more consistent offensively and hopefully get a couple of big hits when it counts later in the year.”

Starling, a senior, leads the team with 46 strikeouts in just 29 innings pitched. He has a 3.62 earned run average on a pitching staff that has a team ERA of 3.06.

Thomas University signee Dalton Dampier
 (team-leading 0.54 ERA), the team’s ace out of the bullpen, could see an expanded role after junior Dylan Lovelace (6-1, 2.30 ERA) suffered a season-ending injury last week.

Dampier also leads the team with 13 stolen bases in 15 attempts.

The Raiders will continue their tough schedule tomorrow night as they host Creekside (St. Johns) at 6 p.m.

Despite a current five-game losing streak, the Knights (15-7) are ranked 10th in the state in Class 7A by MaxPreps.

“Creekside has a really good club,” Yeckring said. “They started the year 15-1. They’ve lost a few games down the stretch but they put a lot of pressure on you defensively. They bunt and run in any count. We’re going to have to be prepared defensively to handle the type of pressure that they put on you.”

Santa Fe is in great shape to host the upcoming 4A-District 4 tournament as they are well ahead of Tocoi Creek (St. Augustine) for the top seed.

The seedings for the tournament will be announced on Tuesday.

Next week is the final week of the regular season. The Raiders are currently ranked third in the FHSAA’s Class 4A-Region 1 rankings behind South Walton (Defuniak Springs) and Baker County (Glen St. Mary), so it’s certainly possible they could get a first-round regional playoff game at home too.

“If we handle our business here down the stretch we’ll get a shot to be in the playoffs,” Yeckring said. “Once you’re in the playoffs, you’ve got to be healthy and you’ve got to be lucky. We’re talented enough to make a run but we’ve got to get a little bit of those two things down the stretch here and hopefully we’ll get the bounces to go our way this year.”

Yeckring said there is one thing that will work in their favor during the postseason.

“Once you’re in the playoffs everyone is 0-0 and I feel like at that point we’re just as capable as anyone else,” he said. “You can’t give teams extra outs in the playoffs. The way we defend right now is going to help us in the playoffs. It’s usually a lower scoring type of game in the playoffs so a big two-out hit, a couple of big defensive plays, and you’ve got a chance to move on.”

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