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Here we go!

By Mike Zima Correspondent
Posted 5/18/23

ORANGE PARK - Ridgeview High freshman softball pitcher Saige Bialek tossed an eight-hit shutout as streaking Ridgeview downed visiting Ponte Vedra 5-0 in a Region 1-5A quarterfinal on May 11.

The …

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Here we go!


ORANGE PARK - Ridgeview High freshman softball pitcher Saige Bialek tossed an eight-hit shutout as streaking Ridgeview downed visiting Ponte Vedra 5-0 in a Region 1-5A quarterfinal on May 11.

The Panthers, who have won 10 straight games since an 8-6 start, will host rival Clay in the regional semifinal on May 16. Ridgeview, ranked fourth, and Clay, ranked eighth, have split a pair of games this season, with each team winning at home.

Against Gulf Breeze, the top seed team in the region and unbeaten prior to the game with Clay, the Dolphins got derailed by a 15 strikeout effort by Clay senior pitcher Gabbi Ellis who stifled the 25-0 Dolphins.

In other region playoffs, defending 5A champion Middleburg, the sixth seed, lost an eighth inning 5-4 game to Fort Walton Beach, the third seed, and, in 6A, Oakleaf lost a 2-0 match with number two Hagerty.

Agurkis’ rise and surge into the region playoffs to face the likes of Clay’s tenured Matt Lewis in a clash of youth and vigor vs. age and wisdom comes down to Agurkis winning over the full confidence of her team near midseason.

“I call her my unexpected gem,†Ridgeview head coach Angela Agurkis, a state champion catcher at Oakleaf High under coach Christina Thompson, said of Bialek, who struck out four and walked none. “She has held it down so well for someone her age.â€

Forced to start when expected starter Lily Bennett transferred to Middleburg High School last Fall, Bialek has grown into the role. She has not allowed more than two runs in her last eight games, and has shut out each of Ridgeview’s three playoff opponents. While not overpowering, she used a mix of well-located drop balls, curve balls and screwballs to keep the Sharks off balance.

“I prefer movement over speed, and her movement is awesome,†said Agurkis.

The Panthers put up two runs against Ponte Vedra’s Sarah Wicker, who is committed to pitch for Wellesley College next year, in the third inning. With two outs, consecutive hits by Kyiera Torrence and Kaitlyn “KK†Watts set the table for clean-up hitter Haylee McCrea. McCrea tripled down the right field line, driving in Torrence and Watts.

Watts and McCrea each had two hits, combining to go four for six with two runs scored and two RBIs.

“Those two are powerful, big kids, and they feed off of each other,†said Agurkis. “Haylee has the best pitch selection. She has an approach every time she steps to the plate. She knows what pitch she is looking for, while KK is better when she doesn’t overthink it.â€

Ridgeview played small ball to put the game out of reach in the sixth inning. After Cynthia Hilton lined a single to center field, Hannah Crosby fouled off two pitches to draw an eight-pitch walk. Ponte Vedra third baseman Ava Siebenaler could not handle a ground ball off the bat of Nichole Deschamps, loading the bases. Peyton Kirk’s sacrifice fly plated Hilton, Crosby scampered home on a wild pitch and Deschamps scored on a passed ball.

Ponte Vedra had the same number of hits as Ridgeview did, but the Panthers played sterling defense to keep the Sharks at bay. Half of the Ponte Vedra baserunners were erased by either a double play or outfield assist. Watts, Torrence and Deschamps combined to turn two double plays in the infield, while Mary Girgis and Brooklynn Schneider each made a difficult running catch in the outfield. Peyton Kirk made a diving catch of a soft liner at shortstop and turned it into a double play when she caught Ponte Vedra’s Maddie Prosser straying off of first base. In the seventh inning, Kirk bare-handed a sharp grounder that had deflected off of Bialek’s glove and threw quickly to first to nab Prosser by a step.

Fittingly, the game ended when Girgis gunned down Siebenaler as Siebenaler tried to go from first to third on a single by GiannaMarie Grub.

“We work every day on thinking ahead,†said Agurkis. “They know what they are going to do if they get the ball, and they are not afraid to sacrifice their bodies.â€

Grub and Kate Mikle, a Florida Southern commit, each had two hits for Ponte Vedra, which ends its season with a 17-7 record.

Hilton had two hits for Ridgeview.