SARASOTA — After winning the first district title in school history two weeks ago over the Manatee HEAT, The Out-of-Door Academy baseball team decided to go out and celebrate.
And the Thunder’s championship celebration was more than just the usual high fives and team dinner. Instead, ODA decided to took it one step further. As a sign of solidarity, the players all decided to get Mohawks.
“It was pretty great to win the district title our last year here,” senior pitcher Taylor Emmons said. “We still have a really young team, so be able to get this far as a team is a great feeling.”
With their first district championship under their belts, the Thunder turned their attention to Oldsmar Christian and the Class 1A regional quarterfinals. Behind the arm of senior pitcher Tony Gurry, who pitched a complete game for the Thunder, allowing just three hits on the night, ODA cruised into the regional semifinals with an 18-0 thrashing over the visiting Eagles May 5.
“I think probably having a deep pitching staff has been the biggest plus for us,” ODA coach Mike Verrill said.
With the win, the Thunder set up a rematch with the HEAT, the Class 1A-District 12 runner-up. Similar to ODA, the HEAT earned a spot in the regional semifinals with an 18-7 victory over St. Petersburg Canterbury.
Manatee HEAT took an early 7-0 lead before squandering their lead in the fourth inning. The HEAT quickly responded, scoring 11 runs in the game’s final three innings to advance to the regional semifinals for the first time.
“It’s really been exciting,” sophomore pitcher Josh Nelson said of the HEAT’s success. “Our district games are tough every season, so to be able to come back like this has really been exciting.”
“This is a great team, senior Carlos Brown added. “I love this team, and this has been the best year not because I’m a senior, but because this (experience) is all new to us. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
On May 8, the two teams met for the fourth time this season. ODA took an early 5-1 lead in the bottom of the first before the HEAT responded, tying the game in the fifth inning. Sean Fleeman scored the winning run for ODA on an error by Jacob Arfons in the bottom of the sixth inning as the Thunder (17-13) defeated the HEAT (15-8) 8-7 to advance to the Class 1A regional finals.
Fleeman led the way for the Thunder at the plate, going 1-for-1 with a pair of walks, two stolen bases and three runs scored. Gurry followed batting .333 with three RBIs. Emmons got the win on the mound for the Thunder allowing eight hits and three walks while striking out five.
“He faced them before and did pretty well,” Verrill said of Emmons. “He’s a complete pitcher, and we tried to set it up so that if we got to this point that he would be the guy on the mound for us.”
The Thunder will now face Cambridge in best two-out-of-three game series May 15. The first game will start at 1 p.m. with the second game following at 4 p.m. If necessary, a third game will be held at 1 p.m., May 16.
“This has definitely been the best way to go out so far — although a state championship would be nice,” Emmons said.
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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