ORANGE PARK - St. Johns Country Day School got kind of a bob and weave week with University Christian blasting a two-run homer in the first inning of the region 1-2A semifinal that St. Johns …
ORANGE PARK - St. Johns Country Day School got kind of a bob and weave week with University Christian blasting a two-run homer in the first inning of the region 1-2A semifinal that St. Johns eventually won 4-2, then St. Johns senior Connor Moore loading up his own two run homer to propel the Spartans to a 4-0 region title over Tallahassee powerhouse North Florida Christian just three days later.
“Connor is country strong and may not look big but he’s strong,” said St. Johns coach Tom Lucas. “That was his 10th of the year.”
Both games were home games for St. Johns and put the Spartans in the Class 2A Final Four, the program’s first foray into the state tournament, with a Wed., May 19 (10 a.m. in Fort Myer) state semifinal slated against Mount Dora Christian Academy. Mount Dora Christian (22-6) has just two region playoff appearances; 2018 losing in region final and 2019, losing in region quarterfinal.
“I think the early homer by University Christian showed us that we were not going to panic,” said Spartan coach Tom Lucas, now 23-6. “We had scored 10-plus runs on them during the season and they just came ready to play. We had to work for it, but got the job done.”
Against University Christian, with Jacob Thomas on the mound, the Crusaders struck first after a single to go up 2-0.
“Our field is not as big as some guys don’t have to really be big and strong to get one over the fence,” said Lucas. “He got a hold of it and we were down 2-0. I think the boys came back to the dugout and said to each other ‘we are going to score too’.”
The Spartans stalled on the ensuing two at-bats despite singles by Finn Howell and Jordan Taylor in the first and a single from Brad Hodges in the second inning.
Three walks in the third got bases loaded, but still no runs.
“That kind of put some worry in the dugout, but they stayed focused on what was needed,” said Lucas. “We got bases loaded in the third and didn’t score and that got me a little worried, but we were hitting and the runs would come.”
Two more walks; Hodges and Mason Davis, and a Luke Shannahan single loaded the bases quickly to set up a two-run single from Walker Matthews to tie the game with Connor Moore doubling to put St. Johns up 3-2. Taylor would single in Moore to put the game at 4-2.
Against North Florida Christian, Lucas got a run scoring single from Tyce Moore after Finn Howell singled, stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch.
“We wanted to get early runs because we’ve never beat them and they have run ruled us the last two years in the playoffs,” said Lucas, who lost in 2018 region quarterfinals 14-4, then, in 2019, lost in region semifinal 11-1 to NFC. “That coach has been there about 40 years and has won a bunch of state titles (Four titles: 2014, 2011, 2007, 1995). We figured if we got three runs, we could keep them off the bases with our defense.”
With Hodges starting and Howell finishing on the mound, Lucas got a two-hit pitching effort with nine strikeouts and some outstanding defensive plays.
“Luke Shannahan, first base, stretched over the right field fence to grab a foul ball, then scooped a chopped bunt and turned to flip to Brad on first for two big outs,” said Lucas. “Connor and Tyce had some nice groundouts.”
In the third, Howell walked before Moore’s homer to put St. Johns up 3-0. NFC would give up two walks to set up a James Oman sacrifice fly ball to centerfield to score the fourth run.
Lucas credited his strong schedule planning as a key part of the Spartans’ success.
“Mount Dora has a really good record and plays a lot of the academy level teams in that Orlando area and are very young,” said Lucas. “A lot of their key guys are freshmen and sophomores and they could be dangerous and may be very motivated to upset a team like us. Our strength of schedule is one of the toughest in Class 2A so we will see.”