GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Staying with a decades old tradition started by then Clay Head Coach Rob Thompson and Keystone Heights Head Coach Alan Mattox, the Blue Devils and Indians bookended their regular …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Staying with a decades old tradition started by then Clay Head Coach Rob Thompson and Keystone Heights Head Coach Alan Mattox, the Blue Devils and Indians bookended their regular seasons by playing each other to begin and finish, concluding last night at Clay High after a modified, socially distanced team dinner. Fellowship and bonding start the afternoon off, but once on-field, it is all business. The Blue Devils took a couple innings to get out of the start gate before being the first to light up the scoreboard.
“The Keystone team you play in February is never the Keystone team you play in April,” said Clay Head Coach Josh Persinger.
The Indians came right back with some fireworks of their own and the crowd knew this was not going to be a rollover.
Out at Keystone Heights, Clay put a damper on a senior night ceremony for the Lady Indians; Piper Pescara and Megan Green with Clay batter Casie Carlisle lashing a three run triple in the first inning off Keystone Heights pitcher Madi Mitzel.
Both softball teams are expected to make deep playoff runs in the upcoming district and region tournaments after Final Four seasons to both two years ago.
At Clay High School, after an unproductive two innings, in the bottom of the third, Clay’s Blake Parker was hit by an Evan Andrews pitch the start warming the bases. With no outs, Parker stole second to get into scoring position, then watched teammate Rich Long get walked to have two on with no outs. Max Williams was next with a blistering grounder to right field that scored Parker, 1-0. Logan Wilson laid down a perfectly executed third baseline dribbler for a sacrifice RBI bunt to score Long, 2-0. Wyatt Root went down the third baseline as well with a hard-to-handle grounder that scored Williams, and saw Root safe at first, 3-0. The Indians closed the inning and knew it was time to wake the bats up. Battling right back, the Indians swung their way back in with a C Williams RBI single to score C Guy. M Moreland dropped a sacrifice bunt to score T Glenn to close the gap to a single point as the inning closed 3-2.
“I hate when you tell someone the team you’re getting ready to play, and they tell me you should take them easy. We have to play everyone the same. It seems like almost every year we split with the Indians,” said Persinger. “Coach Mattox is one of the best and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves.”
Clay would add another run in the fourth, and pile on three more in the fifth to amass seven runs. In the top of the do-or-die seventh, Keystone could do no better than add one more Carson run before the two-out rally was canceled by Brady Greene striking out the last Indian to close the match 7-3.
Keeping things close until the fifth seemed promising to Keystone as they never played like they were out of the game.
“They played hard, I’m proud of them, and have done that all year long” said Keystone Head Coach Alan Mattox. “We try to get better every game, played against a really good team tonight that is well coached and I’m tickled to death with our players. We have to catch better and execute a little better from the mound, and not waste any AB’s (at bats).”
In the end, the Indians could not cash in on the nine runners they left out on the bases.
“That’s baseball. You have to take advantage of opportunities. Their guys executed pretty good on the mound. If we execute a little better, a lot of things change. It’s not a game of “ifs” though.”
Keystone Heights, statistically out-hit the Blue Devils 8-7. Tonight, the number of runners abandoned on the bases made all the difference as Clay had the hot bats at the right time.
“This tradition goes back to when Coach (Rob) Thompson was here. It’s a great tradition and a great rivalry. The kids play real hard on the field and after it’s all over, they’re back to being normal friends. It’s a great rivalry and great baseball.”
In the top of the seventh, Coach Persinger did something he thinks could become a Clay tradition. Assistant Coach Andy Toelken gave Persinger an idea. The Blue Devils started the inning putting all the seniors on the field. “I waited until the very last possible minute” and with two outs, he called time. Persinger gathered all the seniors at the pitcher’s mound and gave each player a handshake, then pulled them all in the dugout, as if to pass the torch to next year’s team. “It was pretty emotional and I told them to get out of here. I think that moment will mean a lot more in 10 years than that last out.”
With the end of regular season play, both teams look forward to the playoffs with Keystone entering ranked number two, and Clay number one in the respective divisions.