Panthers await Clay vs. Sharks outcome

Randy Lefko
Posted 4/20/17

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – After an excruciating 5-0, nine inning district loss on Wed., April 12 to Clay High, the Ridgeview High Panthers’ baseball team, the defending district 4-6A champions, …

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Panthers await Clay vs. Sharks outcome

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – After an excruciating 5-0, nine inning district loss on Wed., April 12 to Clay High, the Ridgeview High Panthers’ baseball team, the defending district 4-6A champions, reached way deep into the “guts” of competition to come away with a 3-2 rematch win over the same Clay High Blue Devils on Thursday in a two-game series that could very well go to the top of baseball lore of Clay County.

“Tonight is why you play the game, Holy Smokes,” said Ridgeview High coach John Sgromolo, a former Clay High player along with Clay High coach Josh Persinger. “These guys dug down to find a way. This may have been the best in high school infield play that I have ever seen. Now, we wait.”

A spent Persinger was visibly drained from the effort of the game against one of his best friends, but was appreciative of the effort on both sides.

“Yesterday nine innings, two good ball clubs, hopefully we get to see them again in a couple weeks,” said Persinger. “Now, we have to beat Ponte Vedra twice for the one seed; a loss gets the coin toss. I tell the kids you lose and you learn from it. John said he hoped we could do it again in the district final.”

Sgromolo and his Panthers must now wait as Clay will finish their district play next week with a two-game series with Ponte Vedra High on Wed., April 19 at Ponte Vedra then back in Green Cove Springs on Thurs., April 20 for the district finale.

Clay (12-9 overall) and Ponte Vedra (13-6 overall) are locked at 5-1 in district play with Ridgeview (14-4 overall) at 6-2. Ridgeview has district losses to both Clay and Ponte Vedra.

“I have always said that we play in one of the toughest baseball districts in all of northeast Florida,” said Sgromolo. “Three very well coached, disciplined teams that play the game the right way and I told Josh (Persinger) and Tom (Stanton, Ponte Vedra coach) that we should just flip a coin before the season because it’s going to be that way at the end.”

In the Thursday rematch, with senior Tyler “T-Rex” Robison on the mound leading the fiery Panther defense, it was infielders Yamil Tosado at shortstop and third baseman Brysen Jones who came up with big plays in the field to keep Ridgeview fans on the edge of their seats.

“It’s great to have the guys behind me laying out and going after the tough grounders and flyballs,” said Robison. “I get pumped up when I turn around and they are pumping the ball for the out.”

Clay, with Austin Burke slinging from the mound, extinguished the first three Panther batters with grounders in the first inning, then scored the game’s first run in their initial at-bat with Josh Lemen slicing a run-scoring double to score Kevin Jackson who opened with a single.

With Lemen at third base and Cole Escher manning the shortstop hole, Burke was content to get grounders from the Panther batting lineup as both teams seemed intent on riding the 1-0 Clay lead to a thrilling finish.

In the bottom of the second, Tosado snatched his first great play of the game off a ripped liner from Ken Burke.

“We were prepared after we fell down in yesterday’s game,” said Tosado. “This was our lock down defense.”

In the top of the third, Ridgeview’s Evan Wickeri benefited from a error from Clay first baseman Michael Styron, but the kharma was lost when Wickeri fell trying to steal second and was tagged out. Jones ripped a left field single but Lemen laid out on a shot just inside third base from T.J. Oliveira and gunned down Oliveira at first base to leave Jones stranded.

Robison got backed by centerfielder Carlos Gonzales who ran down two consecutive deep shots from Jackson and Escher before a chopped grounder by Chase Holman spun out of Robison’s hand left of the mound to put Holman at first. Tosado did his best Rubber-man stretch to steal a line drive and throw out Andy Yarbrough from deep in the shortstop hole.

In the fourth, it was alert fielding from Escher to knock out Ridgeview baserunner Garrett Barfield at second after a successful bunt, but a bad throw to first putting Tyler Turner at second base with Robison up. Burke whiffed Robison and grounded Brandon Dumas out to halt the threat and keep Clay clinging to their 1-0 lead.

With Clay fired up in their dugout from Burke’s command from the mound, it was Jones at third base who barehanded a slow grounder from Connor Solomon on the third base line and fired across for the out before Oliveira gunned down Tyler Spence at first base who was trying to sneak a lead to steal second base.

“Brysen’s play was one of the toughest plays for a high school kid to make a good throw from,” said Sgromolo. “I knew once he got the ball, we could secure the field, but his throw for the out was unbelievable. T.J.’s throw was a gamechanger.”

Ridgeview had their first near-miss with A.J. Kittle driving a long hit to deep left field for an out with Wickeri singled over second base, but Jones grounded out and Tosado hit a fly ball out to right field.

In the bottom of the fifth, Styron lashed a line drive that Wickeri dove right to left to steal a hit from Clay as Robison started to exact more control from the mound and keep the Clay bats ineffectual.

In the sixth, Lemen again gunned down Oliveira on a slow grounder that got behind Burke, but Barfield walked and Turner moved Barfield to third with a single before Robison broke the ice with a slashed hit past Lemen at third base that tied the game at 1-1. A walk to Kittle loaded the bases before Wickeri smacked a two run single over second base to score the game 3-1 with Jones grounding out.

In the seventh, Tosado had back-to-back steals at shortstop to rob Lemen and Solomon of hits as Ridgeview was sensing victory.

Burke stayed on the mound and extinguished Barfield and Turner with strikeouts after walking Oliveira to give Clay one more shot at another late inning comeback.

With Clay trying to rev up a seventh inning rally, Spence nearly broke open the game with a hard grounder to Jones at third, but Jones was able to salvage some defense by knocking the ball down and keeping Spence at first base. Burke smashed a shot to right field to move Spence to second, but Robison struck out Styron. Austin Burke singled to load the bases with just one out and the tension level rose to a fever pitch but Jackson and Escher both hit flyballs to end the game.

Ridgeview finishes their regular season with games against Columbia, St. Johns Country Day School, Keystone Heights, Creekside and Columbia.

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