ST. PETERSBURG — Tuesday night's game couldn't have started much worse for Northeast and starter Josh Hale.
Two batters in and visiting Countryside was up 2-0. Cougars shortstop Charlie Skantze followed catcher Zach Taylor's leadoff single with a two-run bomb to left field and Countryside looked charged up to avenge last month's 2-1 home loss to Class 7A District 9 leader Northeast.
As they've been doing all year, though, the Vikings remained unfazed.
Northeast took full advantage of multiple Countryside fielding miscues and strung together hits at the opportune moment to win 5-2 and stay alone atop the league standings.
“They've been doing this since last summer, and that's just the way this team is built right now,” said Northeast coach Rob Stanifer of his team's success. “We started 0-2 this season and with how this team has bounced back from it, their confidence is high right now.”
“We went down 2-0 in the first inning and none of us in there hung our heads,” said Northeast catcher Bret Maxwell. “We went right back at it.”
The loss drops Countryside to 7-5 overall and 3-4 in District 7A-9. Northeast (9-4, 5-1) stays a half-game ahead of second-place East Lake (10-3, 5-2).
The Vikings got a big assist from Countryside to tie things up at 2-2. The Cougars negated Skantze's two-run dinger in the home half of the first inning by committing errors on three of the Vikings' first four at bats.
“I don't know what to say about that,” Countryside coach Kemo O'Sullivan said of Tuesday's sloppy play. “[Northeast's] a good team and they're playing well, but we've got to be mentally tougher than that.”
As Countryside's all-around play waivered, Northeast and Hale began settling in. The senior righty got into trouble again in the second by putting runners on second and third with one out. But after Hale retired the next two Cougars without incident, Countryside never advanced a baserunner beyond first base the rest of the night.
“Josh [Hale] was out there and didn't have his best stuff tonight, but he competed and did a great job keeping us in the game,” Stanifer said.
“This is a huge win, especially for our pitchers,” said Maxwell, who went 2-for-3 with an RBI double in the Vikings' decisive fifth inning. “They've been stepping up all year and when you have a defense behind them like we do it's awesome for their confidence.”
That Northeast defense credited by Maxwell turned in a clean, error-free performance behind Hale and reliever Jesse Moeller, Tuesday's winning pitcher. Moeller, who started the game at third and went 1-for-3 with a double at the plate, tossed a near-perfect 2 2/3 innings after taking over with one out and one on in the fifth. The junior surrendered a single hit and struck out two.
Somewhat similar to last Friday's road win at East Lake, Northeast won by posting a late-inning crooked number to break a tie game.
The top of the Vikings' order jumped on Tuesday's tough-luck losing pitcher Christian Townsend in the top of the fifth with three consecutive hits. Center fielder Angelo Terrasi led off with a double to center, followed by Chris Clark's base hit up the middle. Maxwell then broke the tie for good when he lofted curveball deep to center for his run-scoring double.
“Surprisingly it was a curveball,” Maxwell said, “and at 2-0 I wouldn't usually swing at that but we had guys as first and third and I was just looking to drive something to the outfield and get that run in. Fortunately it fell.
According to Countryside's numbers, Maxwell's RBI was the first earned run Townsend's allowed over 24 1/3 innings of work.
Northeast plated two more insurance runs in the fifth to make it 5-2.
Clark came across first when Drew Vimond struck out swinging on a ball in the dirt. Taylor, Countryside's catcher, threw to first to get Vimond and Clark beat first baseman Brian Brown's throw home. Maxwell's pinch runner, Brandon Reiss, scored when the Cougars committed their fourth and final error of the night.
Tuesday's game is Northeast's last before traveling to South Carolina for a spring break tournament that begins this weekend.
Countryside will look to rebound with a couple tough non-league games before next week's 45th Annual Dunedin Spring Classic begins. The Cougars will travel to Osceola on Thursday night at 7 p.m. and Calvary Christian on Saturday at 7 p.m.
LP – Christian Townsend (3-2)
Christian Townsend – L, 5.0 IP, 5 R, 1 ER, 6 H, 1 K, 1 BB
Charlie Skantze – 1-for-3, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 HR
Jack Skantze – 2-for-2, 1 BB – Defensive RF: 1 double play (9-2), 1 E
Bret Maxwell – 2-for-3, 1 RBI, 1 2B
Jesse Moeller – W, 2.2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 2 K, 0 BB – 1-for-3, 1 2B
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