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Two titles in five minutes for Panthers

By Ray Dimonda Correspondent
Posted 5/11/23

ORANGE PARK - On the neutral field of Orange Park High just five minutes behind the pace of a district softball championship game up Blanding Blvd between Ridgeview and Columbia, Ridgeview High …

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Two titles in five minutes for Panthers


ORANGE PARK - On the neutral field of Orange Park High just five minutes behind the pace of a district softball championship game up Blanding Blvd between Ridgeview and Columbia, Ridgeview High senior pitcher Billy Girgis, while getting updates on his twin sister Mary’s softball district championship game, was a one-man highlight reel as the Panther utility guy; pitcher, shortstop, top hitter, fueled an pseudo-upset 8-1 rout of top seed Clay High in the district 3-5A championship game.

“Don’t jinx them, don’t tell me their score,” said Mary Girgis in her Panther dugout while celebrating her championship win.

In an historical finish for both teams, Ridgeview High doubled down in titles with Girgis’ twin sister, Mary, and her softball Panthers teammates winning their district title with a 2-0 win over Columbia just a few minutes before the baseball team won their title.

“Let me tell you right now, Billy Girgis is a generational player,” said Jimenez. “I can’t talk about him proudly enough.”

In the region 1-5A lineup, uniquely, Clay (21-6), top seed, and Ridgeview (19-6), fourth seed, have a chance for a third grudge match in the region semifinal with Clay hosting Pensacola Escambia and Ridgeview hosting Ponte Vedra on Tues., May 9, in region quarterfinals.

For Jimenez, who, in just his second season as head coach after leaving Oakleaf High School, earned the Panthers first district title in seven years after the Panthers upset Clay 8-3 under then-coach John Sgromolo, a former Clay High standout and former coach at Clay under Robb Thompson with current Clay coach Josh Persinger.

“Very emotional, very emotional,” said Jimenez, who was visibly emotional after the victory. “When you play a club like Clay, you have to play a clean ballgame. Clay is a great ball club; you can’t take anything away from them. Tonight, we had to play in between the lines and do what we had to do.”

Doing what they had to do was to hold the vaunted Blue Devil bats at bay behind Girgis’s mound effort; four hits, one run, one walk and five strikeouts, plus an astounding defensive effort behind their leader.

“Orange Park almost put themselves in this game when we came out flat Tuesday night,” said Jimenez, who survived a 5-4 semifinal win over the much-improved Raiders. “Tonight, we took advantage of all our runners we got on and stressed two out hitting, something we have to do to beat a ball club like Clay.”

Clay beat Ridgeview 10-5 just a week ago.

Ridgeview will host Ponte Vedra in their region 1-5A quarterfinal on Tues., May 9.

The Panthers clawed their way into an early 1-0 first inning lead with the Blue Devils swatting right back to even things at 1-1.

It was until the Panthers pounced in the top of the fourth inning with four unanswered runs and finished off the Blue Devils with another three runs in the top of the sixth inning for the 8-1 victory.

The win for Ridgeview was their first district title in seven years with the last a victory over Clay in 2016 for the 6A District 4 Championship at Clay High, 8-3.

“To be honest, I came in here last year and I thought it was going to be a very big project,” said Jimenez. “These kids surprised me. We have very good ball players here. Like anything, you have to cultivate that atmosphere and environment these guys are going to respond to. We have a long way to go, but they are starting to trust. Just winning this district championship helps it out even more.â€

For the Blue Devils, it was the worst night to have issues in the field as well as problems in the batter’s box. Out of the dugout, pitcher Eli Roberts would have difficulty as the lead Panther batter, Xavier Harris singled when his hit went back to the pitcher and Roberts could not get a handle on it quick enough, allowing Harris to sit on first base. After an out, Harris took off for second base on a steal. The throw was off target of the second baseman allowing Harris to make the trip to third base. On his way, Clay committed another error and overthrew the play at third allowing Harris to finish the trip, 1-0.

“I don’t think we’ve hit more line drives all year,†said Persinger. “There are some things we have to go back and look at. You play this game a lot and things happen.”

After closing the inning, the Blue Devils came fighting back with a deep shot to left field by Cole Carnell earning a triple with no outs. Chase Haggard sacrificed to right field scoring Carnell, 1-1. The next two innings, both teams connected but never developed any scoring.

In the top of the fourth inning, the Panthers Tommy Glasspoole walked to first, followed up by a Clayton Gulbrand RBI double grounder to right field, 2-1. The gains continued with a two RBI single grounder to center field by Cody Holland, scoring Jose Morales and Gamble Hulsberg, 4-1. With two outs and Marquee Williams and Harris on base, Girgis singled to right field scoring Williams, 5-1. The Blue Devil’s response could muster no more than a runner on left abandoned as the line drives were too deep allowing the Panthers opportunity to make the outs.

“We are hitting balls on the screws, and balls off the end of the bat and they are falling,” said Persinger. “Life is crazy when you think you have it all figured out. Sometimes it reminds you to reset. It’s tough. We rolled the dice, now we’ll see what they (the state rankings) give us. We’ve got nothing to lose which makes us pretty dangerous.â€

Facing their third pitcher of the game, in the sixth inning, the Panthers continued the hunt of the Blue Devils with runs by Morales off a Douglas Langley RBI single, and a Harris score after the Blue Devils walked the batter with bases loaded. Gulbrand would close out the attack with an RBI grounder to bring Langley home, 8-1.

On the evening, the Clay defense committed an uncharacteristic four errors and gave up 10 hits.