PONTE VEDRA - Clay High baseball infielders Austin Burke and Cole Escher executed three critical double plays to push the Blue Devils to an 11-4 district 4-6A win over Ponte Vedra High on Wed., April …
PONTE VEDRA - Clay High baseball infielders Austin Burke and Cole Escher executed three critical double plays to push the Blue Devils to an 11-4 district 4-6A win over Ponte Vedra High on Wed., April 19 to give Clay a slight edge in a return game on Thursday at Clay High School with a district seed position on the line.
With the win, Clay pushes their district record to 6-1 with Ridgeview, the defending district champion also at 6-2 and Ponte Vedra now at 5-2. A win by Clay on Thursday will cause a coin flip for the top seed in the district with the upcoming district tournament at week away.
In the first inning, Clay jumped all over Ponte Vedra starting pitcher Kevin Faulkner with Escher walking and Tyler Spence and Josh Lemen both singling to set up an RBI single from Connor Solomon that scored the game 2-0. A strikeout to Chase Holman and a grounder to Ken Burke ended the quick strike, but the Blue Devils built a bit of momentum.
Ponte Vedra, facing Solomon on the mound for coach Josh Persinger's Blue Devils, got three walks to load the bases before Burke to Escher to Andy Yarbrough at first displayed the first double play of the night though a run scored off the effort.
Both pitchers were ineffectual in the second inning with Ponte Vedra replacing Faulkner after a walk to Austin Burke. Reliever Tony Roca settled down with a strikeout of Kevin Jackson and a fly ball for Spence to end the inning.
Solomon got a great effort from Yarbrough on a hard shot to right field that ended with Yarbrough recovering on the stab to flip the ball to Solomon for the out on the first batter. A walk and two flyballs were all the Sharks could muster.
Roca got his zone with two strikeouts in the top of the third with Solomon reaching first on a shortstop error, but pinch runner Andrew Jackson eventually getting tagged out in between second and third on a Chase Holman grounder in front of Ponte Vedra's shortstop.
In the third, Ponte Vedra opened with a solo homer to Quenton Brahm then added three singles off Solomon to load the bases before centerfielder Jacob Owens lost a flyball that allowed one more runs and a flyball scoring another to push the Sharks into a 4-2 lead.
Clay got singles from Escher and Spence in the fourth with no runs scored while Ponte Vedra, with Yarbrough taking the mound for Clay, forced grounders and a strikeout to keep the score 4-2.
In the fifth, Clay's bats woke up with Holman and Ken Burke opening with hard singles and Austin Burke loading the bases with a bunt to setup an RBI single by Escher that was aided by a shortstop error. Jackson launched an RBI single to score two more runs with Escher singling to load the bases one more time with the score now 6-4 for Clay.
In the fifth, Yarbrough opened with a strikeout and a single to right field, but Burke to Escher to Solomon now at first finished off a dramatic second double play to end the inning.
The defensive highlight ignited the Clay dugout that seemed to shake Roca as Holman opened with a single, Ken Burke walked and Austin Burke walked to load the bases with one out. Owens started the avalanche of runs with a run scoring single with Escher and Lemen singling around a walk to Spence to scored the 11-4 game as Persinger was content to keep the bases loaded and let his batting lineup methodically move baserunners into scoring position.
Yarbrough kept the pressure high in the sixth with two whiffs and a line drive stab by Austin Burke put the Sharks back on the field with no threat.
Faulkner returned to the mound for Ponte Vedra and walked two batters before getting out of the inning with grounders.
Ponte Vedra's final at bat saw Owens emerge as the hero defensively by tracking down long balls for outs with Jackson snagging the final fly to end the game.