The BCHS Wildcat baseball team is in the regional finals for the first time in almost two decades.
The Cats (19-10) pulled away late on May 5 as they blanked hosting Clay 4-0 in the Region 1-5A semifinals.
“I’m proud of them. We’re playing well like we knew we could all year. We’re excited where we’re at,” coach Fred Matricardi said. “It’s been a long time since a Baker County baseball team has been this far.”
Baker County’s hot streak at the plate continued for another game as the batters combined for 10 hits, marking the fourth straight game the team has reached double digit hits.
None were bigger than Corey Adams’ two-RBI single to left center field, which gave the Cats a late 3-0 cushion in the sixth inning.
“Corey Adams had the big hit right there to get us from one run to three,” coach Matricardi said. “ … Average-wise, I think he’s our leading hitter.”
Justin Waddel led the team at the plate, going a perfect 4 for 4 on the night. Zach Rafuse ignited the offense in the third inning by scoring on a throwing error after blasting a triple.
Crews Orender scored on a throwing error in the top of the seventh to extend Baker County’s lead to 4-0.
Winning pitcher Jordan Kennedy kept the Blue Devils (16-11) from making much of a threat through most of the game. He allowed only two hits and struck out six in 6 2/3 innings on the mound.
The defense helped Kennedy out in the bottom of the sixth inning, turning a 6-4-3 double play to end the frame.
“You can’t say enough about that performance,” coach Matricardi said about Kennedy’s second start of the season. “It was big. We didn’t use too many for Friday. … That was big to win that one with that performance he did, but it sets us up nice for Friday.”
But the senior wasn’t able to close out the complete game. After allowing two runners to reach base with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, coach Matricardi brought in Jacob Milton to finish the game.
He quickly finished off the Blue Devils with a strike out.
Despite the late surge and the tying run on deck, coach Matricardi wasn’t too worried about Clay’s comeback attempt.
“I knew we were OK. I knew Jake was going to come in and get the out,” he said. “Our guys are four or five deep on the mound. I wasn’t getting too nervous until they got the tying run at the plate.”
The win advanced the Cats to the regional final for the first time since 1996. Baker County will host Mosley, which beat Bay 4-0 to qualify, on Friday night.
Hosting the Region 1-5A final offers the team an advantage into moving onto the final four, the head coach said.
“For us to be in our friendly confines and take BP on our field and go through our pregame ritual that we do is big rather than getting on a bus and driving three hours,” he said. “We expect this big crowd to be there on Friday to will us into the final four hopefully.”
If the bats keep swinging the way they have been, the Cats could find themselves in Fort Myers playing for a state championship.
“We knew if we ever hit we were going to be dangerous. If we keep hitting it’s going to give us a chance,” coach Matricardi said. “Our pitching is always going to be there. We’ll be a tough out.”
Cats blanket Ridgeview in round one
Its first home playoff game in years couldn’t have went much better for the BCHS Wildcat baseball team.
The Cats dominated Ridgeview in every phase of the game in front of a packed crowd on April 30 as they blanked the Panthers 10-0 in six innings in the Region 1-5A quarterfinals.
The hot bats that catapulted the team to the District 3-5A championship the week prior carried over into the playoffs, recording 12 hits against Ridgeview.
Catcher Andrew Dehart once again led the squad at the plate. He went 3 for 4 with three RBIs and a fifth-inning triple, which put the Cats up 5-0.
Brody Crews also had a nice night, going 2 for 3 with a pair of RBIs.
“He swung it well,” coach said about Dehart. “Anytime you can get three hits out of your nine-hole, that’s a good thing.”
On the mound, pitchers Rafuse and Jacob Milton never allowed the Panthers to put up much of a threat. They allowed just three hits, and only one Ridgeview runner reached scoring position.
Rafuse picked up the win with six strike outs in five innings of work. Milton entered the game in the sixth inning, striking out two.
“They both did good,” coach Matricardi said. “We went to Jake and he’s starting to look like he did when he was a sophomore. His arm looked really good.”
The Cats had chances to put the game away early, but only managed to build a 2-0 lead through the first four innings. The team left five runners stranded in scoring position during that span, including leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the third.
“We’re starting to swing it. It took some time to get going. We left some guys on base,” coach
Matricardi said. “We had them on early, but we had to keep plugging away. We knew it would come through eventually.”
Baker County got the bats rolling late with a five-run explosion in the bottom of the sixth inning to end the game.
Crews, Dehart and Landon Boyette all drove home runs on base hits, and Dylan Hall connected with an
RBI double to right center field in the inning.
Waddel scored the game-ending 10th run after Ridgeview’s catcher tried throwing him out at third base during Dehart’s single, but the ball ricocheted into center field.
After suffering through a losing streak to end the season, coach Matricardi thinks the Cats are building momentum at the perfect time.
“We’re getting hot at the right time,” he said. “I like where we’re heading.”