BRADENTON — The Out-of-Door Academy baseball team knew what it was up against.
The record speaks for itself.
The Thunder has played rival Cardinal Mooney a total of seven times over the past three seasons — six of which ODA found itself on the outside looking in, including a pair of 5-1 decisions earlier this season.
With a pair of Division I prospects on the mound for the Cougars — Patrick Heuler, who is headed to the College of Charleston, and Garrett Schrantz — the Thunder knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
But when you’re playing with nothing to lose, good things tend to happen.
With their third-consecutive regional berth already locked up, the Thunder came out poised and focused on cleaning up the fundamentals — key elements that have eluded them at times throughout the season — while having fun at the same time.
The players’ attitude and confidence in one another proved to be the perfect recipe, as ODA pounded out 10 hits on its way to an 11-3 victory over Cardinal Mooney in the Class 3A-District 10 championship April 26, at McKechnie Field.
“It’s a great win,” sophomore pitcher Jimmy Kuebler says. “We had a great attitude going into the game, and just to come out and beat these guys like we have before was a great feeling.”
In their two regular-season meetings, the Thunder (18-7) struggled to score runs against the Cougars (17-9).
On Friday night, ODA matched its run total in the first inning. The Thunder scored eight runs in the first three innings to take an 8-0 lead. It was exactly what coach Billy Dietrich had been hoping his players would do.
“They came out and they performed,” Dietrich says. “I’m beyond proud of them.
“The track record (against Cardinal Mooney) is not good,” Dietrich says. “We have a lot of respect for them. They are a great team. We played hard tonight. We did exactly what we wanted to do.”
Leadoff hitter Tyler Dietrich went 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles, a walk, a stolen base, two RBIs and four runs scored to lead the way for the Thunder at the plate.
Every player in ODA’s starting lineup got on base, as the Thunder scored runs in five of the seven innings.
“I think it was a great motivator for us,” Dietrich says of scoring a pair of runs in the first inning. “I think coming out of the gates early is very important for us. The first three innings we were on fire.
“This is very special,” Dietrich says. “We got beat by them twice. They’re a great group of guys — very talented.”
“That was a huge motivation for the whole game,” Kuebler says. “Once we come out hot swinging the bats, we don’t give up. So, doing that in the first couple of innings really boosted our confidence and got us going against these guys.”
Kuebler pitched six innings for the Thunder before turning the ball over to Desmond Lindsay in the bottom of the seventh. Kuebler allowed two runs on four hits and three walks while striking out four.
“He pitched fantastic,” Dietrich says of Kuebler. “We’ve called him ‘Ice’ for a long time, and he’s the epitome. He’s a team player. They all are. They did a fantastic job tonight. They weren’t intimidated.”
Austin Bingham went 2-for-3 with a double and walk to lead the way for the Cougars at the plate. Bucky Bonynge also had a double and scored a run for Cardinal Mooney.
It was the lone district loss of the season for the Cougars, who finished the regular district season 6-0.
“We just can’t get complacent,” Cardinal Mooney coach John Bennett says. “We pretty well ran through the district this year; and I think it just got that in their heads that we ran through it and they were just going to come in and just do what they’ve been doing all year. ODA is just one of those teams that you can’t let down for one second because they’re going to push you every way, and they did it tonight.”
With the win, ODA will play host to Calvary Christian in the Class 3A-Region 3 quarterfinals May 2 while Cardinal Mooney will travel to Clearwater Central Catholic. The winners will face one another in the regional semifinals May 7.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].