LITHIA — After giving up consecutive hits, including an earned run, in the first inning Saturday versus Lennard, Durant junior pitcher Chelsea Baker could have doubted herself.
Instead, in her first career varsity baseball start, Baker, the first female to play varsity baseball in Hillsborough County, shook it off and, backed by an all-round solid performance by her defense, shut down the Longhorns to remainder of the way in giving Durant a 6-1 victory on the opening day of the annual Saladino Tournament.
“The first two batters had some hits, but I just kept doing my thing, throwing strikes, and hoped for the best,” Baker said.
In five innings, Baker allowed four hits and one run, with no walks or strikeouts for her first varsity win.
“Chelsea did a heck of a job,” said Durant coach Butch Valdes. “She did just fine. She got them in maybe 50 pitches in five innings.”
Lennard pitcher Jackson Tetrault held Durant scoreless and hitless through three innings until the Cougars exploded in the fourth with six runs on six hits and one error. Durant’s Garrett Wright had a hit, a stolen base, two RBI and a run scored in the inning.
“When I was little, all my dreams were to be on the USA team and high school baseball, and people always told me, ‘You’ll never play varsity baseball, you’re not strong enough, you don’t have the guts to do it,’ so coming out here today and taking the win was an awesome feeling,” Baker said. “It was like, ‘I got you.’ ”
Gilcrease homer lifts Sickles to victory
TAMPA — Time and again through 11 innings at the University of Tampa, Sickles hit shots only to have Robinson snag them with a dramatic dive or leap.
In between the defensive gems — particularly through the seventh through 11th innings — Robinson sophomore Neil Ordorica was sinking curveballs and making many Gryphons whiff.
Frustration mounted until the bottom of the 11th when Sickles outfielder Levi Gilcrease turned on yet another spinning curveball and caught it flush. The ball towered down the left field line and sailed over the fence. Finally, Sickles had won, 4-2.
“I was out in front of it and I just flicked my wrist,” Gilcrease said of his second home run of the season. “I thought it was going to hook foul but it stayed straight. (The hit) ended a lot of frustration. (Robinson) kept making great plays and (Ordorica) was tough.”
Before the Gilcrease homer, in fact, Ordorica had struck out six consecutive hitters, one of whom reached base on a passed ball after whiffing at strike three.
“I told our guys to move up on the plate and be disciplined,” Sickles coach Bob Pagano said. “But I have to give (Ordorica) a lot of credit because he battled hard.”
Robinson (5-4) took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth before Sickles (6-3) tied it by collecting three singles within four hitters.
The tight defensive battle, which featured no errors, began with Sickles starter Shane Haight throwing well through five innings before hitting his pitch count. Haight allowed only one run on four hits. Robinson starter Tommy Craparo also lasted through five innings, allowing only one run on six hits.
The one downside to the victory, Pagano said, is that the Gryphons had to use four pitchers in the 11 innings.
“(Using four pitchers) is absolutely not how you want to start a tournament like this,” Pagano said. “But we’ll be OK. We’ll figure it out.”
Pagano said Grant Baker, who threw two innings Saturday, will likely get the start Monday against Armwood. On Tuesday, Sickles will most likely start Troy Bacon.
Speedy Merrell leads Steinbrenner to win
BRANDON — Steinbrenner senior Kevin Merrell had a conversation before the start of his senior year with University of South Florida coach Lelo Prado about the coach’s plan for the Bulls’ commit. Prado’s thoughts for Merrell’s high school senior year were simple — have fun.
Merrell, a speedy shortstop, did just that, competing with Steinbrenner’s golf team in the fall and joining the track team this year on top of his baseball season this spring. In his first track meet of the season, Merrell won the 100 meters, posting a time of 10.69 seconds.
“It’s fun and I’m glad to be out there,” Merrell said. “It’s always about coming out every day and having some fun.”
Saturday in Steinbrenner’s opening game of the Saladino Tournament, Merrell showed his speed as he went 3-for-4 with four stolen bases, two runs scored and two RBIs as the Warriors squeaked by Hillsborough 7-6.
The Warriors had seven stolen bases, with Alex Hanson adding a pair to the total.
Hillsborough (6-2) started things off, taking advantage of a pair of Warriors errors to move around a run in the first inning, before the two teams changed leads four times. The final came down to the sixth inning where the Warriors got three hits including an RBI single from Merrell and a game-winning sac fly from Cole Gordon. The win was the first game in eight days for Steinbrenner (7-1) after an off day Tuesday and a rain out Thursday.
“I told them I didn’t want to have to hit in the seventh,” Warriors coach John Crumbley said. “It definitely looked like we had eight days off.”
Hillsborough got a complete game from Chris Figueredo (2-2), who stuck out seven in the loss.
Steinbrenner got a solid relief outing from junior Ryan Fatzinger, who allowed just one unearned run on one hit in 31⁄3 innings. Fatzinger, who has made five relief appearances this season, earned his first win.
“He’s our big guy right now,” Crumbley said of his reliever. “All of his outings this year have in big situations and he’s our guy who has stepped up.”
Wharton scores 7 in first to beat Chiefs
TAMPA — Scoring runs in bunches has been an off-and-on theme for Wharton so far this season. Saturday evening, the Wildcats showed a little bit of what they’re capable of when their hitters start to get going.
Wharton put together a huge first inning, scoring seven runs off five hits, and rolled by Chamberlain 8-4 in the Saladino Tournament.
Wildcats starting pitcher Tristen Deluna had a strong outing, after allowing three runs in the bottom of the first. Deluna pitched six innings and struck out 11 batters before giving way to relief pitcher Derek French, who nabbed two strikeouts.
Chamberlain starting pitcher Francisco Quinones only lasted a third of an inning and was touched up for five earned runs and two balks.
The Chiefs added a run in the bottom of the second inning and cut the deficit to 7-4, but would not come any closer.
Wharton finished with eight hits and Chamberlain had five.
Also, Strawberry Crest defeated Middleton 9-0.