TARPON SPRINGS — Close games are a lot easier to win with solid defense. River Ridge has burned itself enough in tight games lately to know that much.
Tuesday at Tarpon Springs, the Royal Knights turned in one of their cleanest performances of the season on the same night ace pitcher Jason Heinrich had himself locked in.
The junior righty baffled hitters all night, limiting the Spongers to one hit and two walks while striking out seven in River Ridge's 3-0 victory.
“I just felt comfortable,” Heinrich said. “My slider was working well and my defense played well. They made no errors tonight and I think that's what kept it at zero runs.”
The Spongers' lone hit came two plate appearances into the bottom of the first. Shortstop Max Romanski ripped a base hit down the third-base line before being hosed at second trying to stretch it to a double by left fielder Tyler Strouse.
From there it was all Heinrich and River Ridge shutting down Tarpon Springs until the Royal Knights offense could eventually string together some hits in the sixth.
“It's never easy, but I told them we can make it a simple game if we play good defense,” said River Ridge coach Jack Homko. “Then we ended up getting timely hitting and good pitching tonight. We've lost a couple games that were close, but we haven't played very solid in the field or we left a lot of people on base.”
The win allows the Royal Knights to keep pace with fellow Class 5A District 8 frontrunners Fivay (7-3, 6-2) and Land 'O Lakes (6-4, 5-2). The Falcons and Gators also played Tuesday night.
River Ridge (6-3, 6-2) put at least one runner on base in four out of the first five innings, only to watch Tarpon Springs starter George Gerakios work his way out of trouble time and again.
The Royal Knights finally got to Gerakios in the sixth, recording three consecutive hits to start a three-run, four-hit frame.
Adding to his standout performance, it was Heinrich that stepped up to break the scoreless tie. He followed up Gage Ledford's leadoff single by ripping his second double of the night over left fielder Jonathan Ulgenalp's head. Tyler Hawks made it 2-0 with an RBI single up the middle and catcher Michael Pineda drove in the third run with a sacrifice fly to center two batters later.
“Once my double scored that run we kind of took off from there,” Heinrich said. “Then we shut it down and game over.”
Tarpon Springs (2-7, 2-6) played an errorless game behind Gerakios, as well, before River Ridge knocked the senior out with two down in the decisive sixth. Aaron Dickson tossed a perfect 1 1/3 innings of relief for the Spongers.
Royal Knights designated hitter Rocco Iervasi joined Heinrich with a two-hit night Tuesday, going 2-for-3 with a pair of singles.
Tarpon Springs will look for a quick rebound tomorrow night when it hosts non-district opponent Palm Harbor University at 7 p.m. The Spongers wrap up their week at home against league rival Anclote on Friday night at 7.
River Ridge hosts Hudson in a non-district game Thursday and then welcomes rival Land 'O Lakes on Friday. Both contests are at 7 p.m.
WP – Jason Heinrich (4-0)
LP – George Gerakios (3-1)
Jason Heinrich – W, 7.0 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 7 K, 2 B – 2-for-3, 1 RBI, 2 2B
Gage Ledford – 1-for-3, 1 R, 1 BB
Tarpon Springs (2-7, 2-6)
George Gerakios – L, 5.2 IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 7 H, 3 K, 2 BB
Aaron Dickson – ND, 1.1 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 0 K, 0 BB