Venice Falls To Unbeaten Tampa Jesuit
A perfect evening for baseball brought two friendly rivals together to a fantastic atmosphere at Venice High on Friday night, as the Indians hosted Tampa Jesuit. With a packed house and a unique pre-game ceremony that had folks kissing a live pig, followed by two strong programs full of players that all know each other, there was electricity in the air leading up to first pitch.
It is a meeting that both sides look forward to each season, as over the years Jesuit and Venice have played some competitive and exciting games against one another. Knowing the ability of their opposition and the fact that either side is capable of winning any time has helped the two clubs to gain great respect for one another. It also adds fuel to the player’s bellies that makes them want to win that game even more.
Friday night’s contest lived up to the series’ theme. Behind some key hits, strong pitching and a few big plays on defense visiting Jesuit took a 3-0 decision. The victory keeps the Tigers unbeaten on the season with a five-game winning streak to start the 2016 campaign.
“Playing baseball at Venice is always a great atmosphere,” Venice manager Craig Faulkner said. “We have a great following here and people of Venice really stand behind us. Bringing in good teams on Friday nights is always fun and we had a fun event here tonight before the game. We like to win these games, but Jesuit is a good team and we learned some things about ourselves tonight. So it is a good thing for us and we’ll learn from this and get better for another day.”
Lefty Michael Sandborn picked up the win on the mound with five scoreless innings of work. Facing a tough Indians lineup the senior southpaw got into a rhythm early and was successful in getting the hitters to swing at his pitches. Sandborn was particularly pleased that he was able to work his changeup for strikes consistently.
Sandborn only struck out three, while scattering four hits and a walk. He excelled at getting the ball put into play and letting his defense do its job. The Jesuit defense proved up to the task by chasing down several hard-hit liners and cleanly fielding numerous grounders.
Second baseman Steven Lugo delivered the biggest play when he leaped up to snare a screamer off the bat of Venice’s Mitch Donofrio to quell a rally bid in the fifth. Colton Fraser had just singled and then stolen second base to spark the Indians with a leadoff man in scoring position, but that momentum quickly shifted directions thanks to Lugo’s big catch.
Lugo’s biggest contribution on the night came at the plate in his first at bat. Leadoff batter Nick Ortega drove a shot deep to center field to start things off with a double against Venice starter Trevor Holloway. Lugo came up next and lined the ball just fair along the right field line to allow Ortega to come in for all the run support the Tigers’ pitching staff would ultimately need.
Holloway settled in and found his groove to put in a quality start in his four innings of work. The right-hander struck out eight while allowing three hits and three walks.
Jesuit struck again in the fifth, as Lugo and Nick Baldor both walked and Braxton Rupp reached on an error that loaded the bases. Lugo came home on a passed ball and Garrett Sheppard later drew a bases-loaded walk to send in Baldor.
“Obviously any time you play Venice, and especially at Venice, you know you are going to get the best of the best,” Tigers Manager Miguel Menendez said. “Coach Faulkner does a great job and I think he is one of the best coaches in Florida. For our guys to come out and perform the way they did shows a lot about who were are and our program. Hopefully we can build off of this and keep going.”
Playing such tough teams like Jesuit is typical for Venice, which will also play Sarasota, Mosley and two Louisiana state champions soon. The goal is to learn from those games and to help those experiences make them better for the end of the season when it matters the most.
“We always have great games with Tampa Jesuit, and it’s early in the year and they are a very good team so it allows us to see where we’re at,” Faulkner said. “Our goal is not to win every game but to keep getting better and better so at the end we are playing our best.”
Faulkner pointed out the performance of the three pitchers as a bright spot on the night. Holloway proved up to normal standards before reaching his pitch count to end his night. Freshman Danny Rodriguez was the first man out of the bullpen and Faulkner sees him being something special the way Rodriguez can throw three different pitches for strikes. Rylee Buckmaster tossed the last two innings and was dominant to keep Venice in the game, which was also something that Faulkner feels will be important for the team going forward.