The Nature Coast Tech Sharks Baseball team (7-4) outlasted the Central Bears (5-7) by a slim 7-6 margin in nine innings on Friday night at the Shark Tank. Coming into the matchup, these teams were well acquainted with each other, and not just because they are cross-county rivals who play annually. The two ball clubs played each other only three nights earlier when Nature Coast had taken game one 3-0 at the Bear Den. While Coach Dan Garofano’s squad had gone on to play the South Sumter Raiders on Thursday, the Bears had three days to prepare for immediate revenge as they played Nature Coast back-to-back. The extra time seemed to benefit the visitors, too, as they gave the home team everything they could handle.
“We battled and we competed,” Coach Garofano said. “Central’s a good, scrappy team. They’re well-coached. We just came up big. A senior came up big in a big moment with a big two out hit to win the game for us. I’m proud of all of our guys for competing for nine innings and coming out with a ‘W’ at home… I’m happy for Jimmy Hurd to come up with that hit. A senior who came through in a clutch moment and that’s what you want your seniors to do.”
Senior James Hurd IV’s “big hit” could not have been any more opportune as it came with two outs in the ninth inning and runners on first and second. Though, as the Sharks’ coach alluded to, many players played pivotal roles in making sure the Sharks came out with a victory. What should not be lost in the discussion of Hurd’s game-winning double is Senior Brant Davis’ hit prior to Hurd’s. With two outs and strikes on the board, Davis delivered a ground ball to Sophomore Tristan King. When the ball arrived at the third baseman’s hands, he took an extra moment to get a proper handle on it and this gave Davis the opportunity to reach first base. This pushed Senior Gavin McMurdo to second and set the stage for the hit that would send McMurdo home.
The bullpens also performed admirably for both squads. Besides the run in the ninth, the visitors only allowed the home team to reach home plate in the fourth innning. Unfortunately for the Bears, it was a six run explosion that forced them to play catch up until the very end. Nature Coast started fast on the mound as well with Sophomore Jackson Hoyt retiring a bevy of batters through the initial three innings. The fourth frame approached with blinding speed before the pitchers duel gave way to scoring. Hoyt surrendered a run on a double by Senior Richard Engley while the Bears gave up the aforementioned barrage of runs. Central then made a pitching change to Railyn Ruiz Santana to help them get out of the fourth. The team in white and light-blue jerseys would turn to Senior Darren Reynolds when Hoyt seemed to be having a little difficulty getting out of the fifth inning. Reynolds only allowed one more run to be scored in that period and surrendered one more in the sixth before Coach Garofano tabbed Sophomore Raymond Groetsch to close out the seventh. He quickly struck out the first two batters and seemed on his way to ending the match, but another double by Engley sent Junior Justin Tranum across home plate and forced the game into extra innings. From there, Sophomore pitcher Joseph Vancleave and the defense retired all remaining batters in the final two frames and set the stage for Hurd’s heroics.
“Our pitchers pitched well,” Coach Garofano said. “They all came in and did their job and got it to the next guy. Then Joey Vancleave came in at the end and gave us two or three good innings of relief when we weren’t getting the big hit to get us to the bottom half of the inning to where we came through and we had the opportunity to get a big hit.”
The Central Bears will look to regroup from their series loss to the Sharks when they travel to face the Fivay Falcons. The teams will meet on the diamond at 7:00 on Tuesday in Hudson. Coach Garofano and company will look to continue their momentum as they travel to Hudson as well to face the Cobras on Tuesday. The Sharks will continue to work on creating “two out hits… and playing solid defense” as they move forward into the back half of their schedule.