FT MYERS - A disastrous first inning filled with self-induced mishaps and costing an early four runs proved fatal to the St. Johns Country Day School baseball team who lost a 5-2 game to Lakeland …
FT MYERS - A disastrous first inning filled with self-induced mishaps and costing an early four runs proved fatal to the St. Johns Country Day School baseball team who lost a 5-2 game to Lakeland Christian Academy in the Class 2A championship game in Fort Myers on Saturday.
"I told them after that first inning that we played Providence about two weeks ago, played a terrible game and almost came back to beat them," said Spartans' coach Tom Lucas, who finishes at 26-5 with a second Class 2A runner-up finish in the past three years. "We play a tough schedule for a reason, but, give Lakeland credit, they played a great game and we had a bad first inning."
Lakeland Christian, a past 3A champion, finishes at 25-5.
With 11 seniors on his roster and a handful of college-bound players, the first inning was a test of momentum for Lucas who saw starting pitcher Kody Daneault open with a walk and a single before an error on a third base bunt to Seth Alford, who hurried to scoop the well-placed bunt and bobbled the exchange, loaded the bases instantly.
Daneault, with a three balls; two strike count on Lakeland's Zachary Lester, walked Lester for the first score of the game.
"We had to wrap our heads around what happened, take a deep breath and know the game was very early and we were good enough to get back the run," said Lucas, who had Jeff Henry warming up in the bullpen, but stayed with Daneault on the loaded bases situation. "Lakeland took advantage of us being kind of off our game and we gave them more."
Daneault, on the next batter, got a strong catch and return from left fielder Aidan Rice to thwart a run with the bases loaded.
A wild pitch that bounced in front of Spartan catcher Hunter Rodgers, and an RBI single off a misplayed grounder by shortstop Shawn Andrade, pushed the score to 4-0 before Lucas entered Henry.
Henry struck out a batter, got a single and flyout to end the barrage.
St. Johns answered with Kyle Boylston doubling to set up a Spartans response, but Andrade stuck out and a sharp hit by Jacob Thomas to first base got caught to end the inning.
"We settled in, knew what had done all season with being behind in runs and just tried to get back to our game," said Lucas. "We were still making some errors; hitting batters, but we were holding them at the four runs and getting guys on base and their first baseman made a diving play on Jacob's hit."
Henry would eventually get relieved by Trevor Bradley after two batters got hit and Bradley seemed to dethrottle the Lakeland batting lineup.
"He's been doing that all season," said Lucas.
In the fifth, Bradley hit a batter and got socked with a triple to score the game 5-0.
In the fifth, St. Johns got a walk to George Gilson with a wild pitch getting him to third and a single to Rodgers to breathe life into the Spartan dugout with Daneault getting Gilson home for a 5-1 game.
"Lakeland dug in on us, I guess, knowing what we have done over the season to finish come backs," said Lucas.
In the sixth, Brown snagged a blooping line drive deep behind second base as the Spartans' looked to make the game more interesting.
"Both teams made great plays in the field and that's expected in a championship game," said Lucas. "We out played them, 2-1 in runs, after that first inning, but it was little too late."
In a dramatic possible seventh inning finish, with bases loaded, St. Johns got a single from Isaiah Mamea, a walk to Brown and Rodgers getting hit by a pitch to set up the top of the Spartan batting lineup with Daneault and Boylston coming to bat.
Daneault hit a fly ball that scored Gilson, but Boylston hit a foul pop out to end the inning.
Lucas loses 11 seniors from the team with Andrade the lone starter, at right field, from the 2021 state final game.
"We're losing guys like Jacob Thomas to North Florida, Andrade to South Florida, Mason Terry to Jacksonville University, Kellen Brown to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and Kody Daneault going for football and maybe baseball at FAU," said Lucas. "No matter the level of the game, as a senior, districts, regions, state, when that last high school game comes and these guys have all played together since they were eight, nine years old, it hurts, but we stopped at Chik-fil-A and everyone was smiling again."
Lucas also has a handful of college players from the 2021 runner-up finish in Brad Hodges at Virginia (44-11, Hodges 18 appearances in relief pitcher. 4.41ERA), Finn Howell at UNF, Connor Moore at FSU, Jordan Taylor at FSU, Luke Shannahan at Cowley County Junior College in Kansas (just won NJCAA Region VI championship, but lost 11-2 to Johnson County in region final) and James Oman at Chipola Community College.