Clay County Crime Report
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Blue Devils steal ‘Train’ from Panthers

By Ray Dimonda Correspondent
Posted 4/20/23

ORANGE PARK – Friday night lights always seem to add something special to any game, and Friday night baseball at the Jungle of Ridgeview, fans from both teams were given plenty to cheer for as the …

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Blue Devils steal ‘Train’ from Panthers


ORANGE PARK – Friday night lights always seem to add something special to any game, and Friday night baseball at the Jungle of Ridgeview, fans from both teams were given plenty to cheer for as the proverbial Momentum Train jumped the tracks to excite the game even more.

“If you clean the ballgame up, execute, and do all the little things; we say little things but obviously they are big things because when we don’t do the little things, big things happen,” said Ridgeview coach Saul Jimenez, 13-6, who saw his Panthers registered a week’s worth of big games; an extra innings 3-2 loss to St. Joseph Academy, a tense 2-0 loss to Fleming Island, an 8-6 win over Oakleaf, an 8-3 win over Stanton, prior to hosting the Blue Devils. Ridgeview entered the game ranked 15th in 5A.

In their first at-bat, the Clay High Blue Devils, 17-4, ranked fourth in 5A, 25th in Florida, loaded up four runs on the Panthers which may have sent many teams packing in the first inning.

But, hold the phone. Over the next three innings, the Panthers scratched and clawed their way right back into the game, tying it at 4-4 in the bottom of the fourth.

As fast as Ridgeview said not so fast, Clay said stand back and watch this as they piled on five runs in the top of the fifth on their way to a hammering of Ridgeview on their home field with a 10-5 victory.

Mid-game, as Clay was making a few defensive mistakes that were costly, Clay Head Coach Josh Persinger called time to bring the entire infield to the mound for a talk.

“I had to remind them, hey we’re okay. I’m loud and I don’t have a problem telling them things,” said Persinger. “Then there are other times where I just have to pat them on the back and say we’re okay. At that point I told them regroup, make the routine play, we’re pretty good too. I read them and give them what they need when they need it.” The next inning the Clay bats exploded, and the Blue Devils blew the game open.

The air was heavy with anticipation for the game as the Panthers had beaten local powerhouse Oakleaf Knights 8-6 just 10 nights prior. The Blue Devils had beaten the Knights exactly one month ago 6-2. Both teams knew this game would come down to who will make fewer mistakes or have Lady Luck sitting in their dugout.

The Blue Devils got things kicked off quick when on the second pitch of the game, Cole Carnell tripled deep to center field, followed by Chase Haggard with a line drive to right field to score Carnell, 1-0. With two outs, the Panthers looked to be ready to stop the bleeding until Merrick Rapoza dinged an RBI single to score Jacob Anderson, who was running for Haggard, 2-0. After Easton, McMahan got on with a Panther error, and a wild pitch pushed both runners into scoring positions. With a single to center field, Collin Briggs notched two RBI’s as Rapoza and McMahan crossed the plate, 4-0.

The Panthers went right to work to chop the lead with each swing of the bat. In the bottom of the first with two outs, the Panthers loaded the bases with Alfredo Jimenez, Billy Girgis, and Wesley Langley.

The Panthers would not need a bat to break the ice as Keegan Roach was hit by a pitch to bring the first run across the plate, which stole the momentum train from the Blue Devils and parked it inside the Panther dugout, 4-1. Clay closed the inning without any further damage, but a momentum shift was underway.

After three Blue Devil batters up, three outs, the Panther momentum continued. Cody Holland walked onto first base and was driven around to third when Marquee Williams grounded out to second base. After the second out, Douglas Langley grounded to the shortstop and made it onboard when the throw didn’t hit the target, scoring Holland, 4-2.

After an unremarkable third inning, in the top of the fourth, again, three Blue Devils to the plate, three outs.

In the bottom of the inning, Holland got things moving for the Panthers with a right field single, then into the scoring slot on second base with a sacrifice by Wesley Langley. Xavier Harris walked to get two runners on first and second for the Panthers. Douglas Langley followed with another sacrifice to move his teammates to second and third base. Girgis finished things up as he poked a two RBI single line drive to right field scoring Holland and Harris, 4-4.

In the top of the fifth inning, the Blue Devis found the keys to that momentum train parked in the Panther dugout, stole it, and kidnaped Lady Luck in the process. With back-to back walks putting Sean

Alvers and Carnell on with no outs, Chase Haggard attempted a sacrifice, but was safely on when the Panthers committed an error. With two quick outs, it looked like the Panthers had the inning about to shut down. Merrick Rapoza stepped into the box and after a swing and a miss and a foul, he blistered a worm burner to the shortstop who just could not get a handle on it.

“I think with basics, if you can put the ball on the ground, if you can force the other team to make mistakes, and you put pressure on high school baseball players, I think you can win a lot of games.” said Persinger.

With the RBI single and the lead, the momentum train went into overdrive and brought Anderson, Josh Rouw, Rapoza, and McMahan home, 9-4.

“The whole game, on both sides was just not a real clean game,” said Panther Head Coach Saul Jimenez. “I think we keep it clean and limit errors and it’s maybe a 2-1 ballgame. If you execute, I’m not saying it goes our way or their way, but if it’s a lot cleaner, it’s more of a 3-2- or 2-1 ball game, not 10-5.â€

In the top of the sixth inning, Carnell would score off a Haggard single for Clay, and Ridgeview would have Harris score off an Jimenez single in the bottom of the sixth for the final 10-5 score.


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