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Raiders down Blue Devils

By Ray Dimonda Correspondent
Posted 12/31/69

ORANGE PARK - In 1998, Google was born, Bill Clinton was President, and the Orange Park Raiders won their last Baseball District Title. In the backyard at Ridgeview High, the District Tournament …

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Raiders down Blue Devils

ORANGE PARK - In 1998, Google was born, Bill Clinton was President, and the Orange Park Raiders won their last Baseball District Title. In the backyard at Ridgeview High, the District Tournament would write history 26 years in the making. The Raiders pounced on the Clay Blue Devils in the top of the first inning with one run, and continued to add to their total throughout game, including a three-run rally in the top of the third inning which included an Aiden Devlin solo home run. The Raider defense was solid all night notching a pair of double plays on the Blue Devils in the 6-0 win.

“We’re back and can be respected again,” said Orange Park Head Coach George Eldredge. “We haven’t been respected at all.” Eldredge would not interview without his side kick/assistant coach Steve Adams who helped with the Raider rebuild. “To beat Ridgeview and then to beat Clay was crazy,” said Adams. “Our two biggest nemesis (Clay and Ridgeview) who we just couldn’t beat and going 14 innings in the two games with no earned runs shows how really good our defense was.”
Just as the Raiders did on Tuesday night against the Panthers with an early offensive push, tonight it was a leadoff left field single from Yaziel Del Valle to get things going fast. A Robert Barnett sacrifice moved Del Valle into scoring position on second base with one out. Tyson Cruz grounded out up the middle, but an error on Clay opened the door for Del Valle to cross the plate and open the Raider scoring.
The Blue Devils could do no better than a runner on base in the first inning and hit into a double play with one runner on in the second inning.
In the top of the third inning, Devlin took the second pitch and connected to punch it out of the park, 2-0. “He (Clay pitcher Easton McMahan) actually shut us down last time,” said Devlin. “My whole approach was, I have to be on time, I have to be on time. That time I went a little early and sure enough it went over. I saw the left fielder running back and I said to myself, that’s the one.”
The inning continued to add runs with Del Valle walking, and Robert Barnett with a single to have two runners on with one out. Josh Taylor followed with an RBI line drive to left field, 3-0. Devon Moore RBI singled to center field to up the score, 4-0.
The Blue Devils could do not better than a single runner on base before the Raider defense closed things down in both the third and fourth inning.
Moving to the top of the fifth inning, a pair of singles from Tyson Cruz and Josh Taylor had runners at first and second base. Jaylen Williams bunted back to the pitcher, but a bad throw had Williams safe on first and Cruz crossing the plate, 5-0.
Two more at-bats for the Blue Devils could only yield a pair of singles in the fifth and sixth innings.
In the top of the seventh inning, Cruz again singled. Taylor moved Cruz all the way to third with a sacrifice and had him ready to score. Devon Moore drove in the final Orange Park run with a grounder into left field to bring Cruz home, 6-0.
The Blue Devil’s single by LJ Martin was the lone Clay spark in the final at-bat before the Orange Park defense closed it down with another grab in left field from Aiden Devlin.
Of note, coming into the evening, Tyson Cruz was batting .406, and added to his stats with a single and a double tonight, no RBI’s, but scoring twice.
“This is a special team. We’ve been together since our freshman year and we just jelled at the end of the year and had a great season,” said Cruz. “It feels great to avenge everyone before us and just dominate and have fun.”
After each Orange Park big play, coming back into the dugout, a player was tossed a mini basketball and would slam dunk it into an “office” hoop. Asked where that came from, Aiden Devlin said “We wanted to find a way to get the team some energy mid-season, so we went to the dollar store, bought the hoop, and we’ve been winning.”
Orange Park pitcher Josh Taylor went the distance for the Raiders, gave up six hits, no walks, struck out five batters, and broke out a never-before seen change-up pitch. “In my heart, I knew I could go the distance. Whatever I could do to help the team,” said Taylor. “That’s a great hitting team. They will hit everything in the zone. You can’t leave anything in the zone. I really worked the corners, pushed the limits tonight. The change-up is something I’ve been developing for three plus years and haven’t been able to throw it, until tonight’s game. Pregame in the bullpen, I threw it good a few times, so I put it in the game.”
For Clay coach Josh Persinger, who had to endure a 12 inning effort to win their semifinal against Middleburg, the Raider win was an eye opener, but not surprising that George Eldredge would pull off the two upsets.
“I know George has put a lot of heart and effort into that team,” said Clay Blue Devil Head Coach Josh Persinger. “We got them early 10-0 in the beginning of the year. They came together as a team. They wanted it. We’ve had a lot of success in the county and that puts a target on your back. Tuesday Middleburg made plays they haven’t made all year, and we went 14 innings. Tonight, I can’t explain why the bloop singles were falling and the line drives were getting caught. Sometimes that’s just the way the game goes. Nothing but respect for George and his team.”