East Lake knew full well that competing with Jesuit High on the road was going to be difficult Thursday night, but spotting the nationally ranked Tigers a six-run lead after two innings proved to make that challenge nearly insurmountable.
Jesuit took advantage of a couple early East Lake miscues while jumping on starter Brad Deppermann for four first-inning runs and two more in the second to build its commanding early lead.
Relief pitcher Dante Valenti came in and managed to cool down the Tigers' bats for a stretch, allowing East Lake to trim its deficit to 6-2. But a six-run Jesuit outburst in the bottom of the sixth brought the game to a mercy-ruled end.
For East Lake coach Dan Genna, he said the final score was disappointing but that he hopes his team will respond positively in its aftermath. Like Jesuit (10-0), the Eagles came into Thursday unbeaten at 8-0.
"This is an intimidating environment, but you’ve got to compete," he said of playing at Jesuit's minor league-like digs off of Himes Avenue in Tampa. "And if we’re going to be a playoff team we’ve got to win in these settings.
"The early four [runs] was hard, but I told them they’re fine. We’ll put our hard hats on and win the next eight out of nine and we’ll be in good shape. It was a good learning experience."
Jesuit’s early surge began when Deppermann was called for the first of his two balks on the night with runners at second and third. After Deppermann struck out Ryan McCullers looking for out number two, Ricky Caldevilla kept the inning alive by beating out a chopper he sent to short that scored Vincent Miniet.
Jesuit added two more hits and two more runs while sending all nine batters to the plate during the four-run first.
McCullers avenged his first-inning strikeout in the second when he ripped a base-clearing, two-run double down the left-field line to put Jesuit on top, 6-0.
Meanwhile, left-handed Tigers starter John Kilichowski turned in another strong performance to bump his record up to 3-0. Though he struck out seven during his three innings of work, the senior wasn’t able to keep his previously pristine 0.00 ERA intact.
Jesuit sophomore Ronnie Ramirez relieved Kilichowski and gave up just two hits over three shutout innings.
East Lake plated both of its runs in the third inning. With runners at the corners and one out, Doug Rovello rocked a double into left over the head of Caldevilla to score Andrew Prozzillo. Catcher Grant Hodges followed that up with a line-drive single into left that allowed Troy Strominger to race home.
According to the Tigers’ statistical updates on MaxPreps.com, Rovello’s double represents just the second extra-base hit surrendered by Jesuit all season through 10 games.
The Eagles’ third-inning rally hit a snag, though, when Hodges got into a rundown between first and second and Rovello was tagged out trying to score from third. Kilichowski ended the threat by striking out Keegan Maronpot.
Standing as East Lake’s top performance Thursday was the job Valenti did in relief. The senior provided his team an opportunity to build on the momentum it gained in the top half of the third by shutting down Jesuit for nearly all of the 3 1/3 innings he pitched.
Upon his call to the mound, Valenti said all the Eagles tried to concentrate on was not getting too worked up about the deficit.
"We were down 6-0 but it was only the second inning, so we had five more innings to come back," he said. "The mindset was just to go one inning at a time and come back slowly without trying to rush it too much."
Valenti kept Jesuit off the scoreboard from innings three through five primarily by pitching to contact and utilizing his defense in big moments. Jesuit put its first two batters on base in the fourth and fifth innings, but Valenti induced double-play balls in both frames to keep the score at 6-2.
"You’ve got to love good infielders and without them it might have been 8-2 or 9-2 at that point," Valenti said. "They’re a fastball-hitting team and you can’t really burn it by them. You’ve got to pitch to contact and let your defense do its job because not a lot of strikeouts are going to happen against Jesuit. Their hitters are very, very good."
Not letting the Tigers’ reputation get in his head helped, too, he said.
"You can’t let Jesuit frighten you just because they’re a big-name team. You just have to come out there and take it like they’re just a regular team. They thrive on fear and they know what they’re doing."
The two runs eventually charged to Valenti came during Jesuit’s big sixth inning after he was pulled. The Tigers entered Thursday’s game having outscored their opponents by a startling 108-9 margin and those potent bats came back to life once again.
Following Valenti’s departure, Jesuit first baseman Daniel Portales ripped a bases-loaded double to center that cleared the bags and expanded the Tigers’ lead to 9-2. An RBI single, a double, an RBI sacrifice fly and a run-scoring single – all in order – then ended the game.
Three Tigers – Trayner, Miniet and Leland Saile – recorded three-hit nights as Jesuit pounded out 16 total. Eight of nine starters reached base safely at least twice.
With plenty of baseball left to play, the Eagles left Jesuit with a better sense of what it takes to win at a high level. But they also feel they learned they can compete with some of the best around.
"That’s not really a 12-2 game with that last inning," said Strominger, responsible for two of East Lake’s six hits. "The score doesn’t really matter. We know we can play with these guys. We had our experience here and when it comes down the road in the playoffs we know we can play a good team like this. That’s a final four team."
Strominger ended his night going 2-for-3 with a run scored.
"I just feel comfortable in there right now," he said of his prolonged hot start. "I'm seeing the ball well and putting the ball in play."
The Eagles (8-1) will need to regroup and bounce back quickly. They travel to Class 8A District 8 foe North Port High tomorrow with the opportunity to improve to 4-0 in league play.
"We’ve got to win tomorrow," Genna said. "We have a chance to be the No. 1 seed if we win two out of the next three district games, so that’s the bigger picture."
EL - 002 000 x --- 2-6-2
Jes - 420 006 x --- 12-16-1
WP – John Kilichowski (3-0)
LP – Brad Deppermann
East Lake (8-1)
Dante Valenti – ND, 3.1 IP, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 H, 1 K, 2 BB
Troy Strominger – 2-for-3, 1 R
Doug Rovello – 1-for-3, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Vincent Miniet – 3-for-3, 1 SB, 3 R, 1 HBP
John Kilichowski – Win, 3.0 IP, 2 R, 1 ER, 4 H, 7 K, 0 BB
Daniel Portales – 2-for-4, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 1 R
Leland Saile – 3-for-4, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 R