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Rams baseball being challenged by tough schedule

Riverview is 6-2 and entering a run of games designed to prepare them for the playoffs.

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It was a drubbing.

But it might be exactly what the Riverview High baseball team needed. 

The Rams (6-2) started the season playing strong, smart ball, winning a lot of close games in the process, but Tuesday's home game against IMG Academy Gray (6-2) was never close. The Ascenders scored six runs off starting pitcher Nicholas Polk, a senior, in 1 1/3 innings. They added an additional two runs off reliever Nicholas Garcia, a senior, in two innings. Junior Landon Gierhart was able to hold the Ascenders scoreless for 1 2/3 innings, but they added eight more runs in the sixth inning off junior Michael Mowduk and senior Colby Byrd.

Riverview's offense kept fighting, planting a run in the second inning and four in the sixth to make the final score 16-5. The Rams were not happy after the game; their other 2022 loss was a 1-0 defeat to Inspiration Academy. They came into the IMG game ranked ahead of the Ascenders in MaxPreps' state rankings (17th and 41st, respectively). Riverview did not expect things to go like this, even though they knew the talent in the other dugout. 

The loss will hurt for a night, but Rams coach Jeremy Schmidt believes it could help the team in the long run. 

"The reason I schedule teams like this is because they are the quality of teams we need to beat in the playoffs," Schmidt said. "When you have a night like this, you take the positives and the rest you can flush and move on. 

"We got some guys in there that needed the work. We got our bullpen guys some innings. And they (IMG) have tough pitching, so seeing our hitters battle was good, scoring those runs in the (sixth) inning."

In 2021, the Rams finished 19-10 and reached the Class 7A regional semifinals before losing 7-0 to Durant High, an eventual Final Four team. The Rams lost significant pieces from that team, to graduation, including pitcher Karson Ligon, who is now a freshman at Miami, and catcher Cole Griffith.

Schmidt was confident the program would overcome those losses; outside of the IMG game, he's been right. 

The Rams' pitching staff has been bolstered by the return of senior Brandon Viera, who missed last season while recovering from Tommy John-type surgery. In 2022, Viera has been sparkling; he has allowed one run while striking out 14 and walking four over three appearances.

Senior pitcher Christopher "Pip" Smalley has arguably been even better. In 12 innings, Smalley has allowed no earned runs (two total runs) while striking out 16 hitters and walking four. Senior pitcher Austin Harford has also proven himself capable of providing solid innings, holding a 1.56 ERA over five appearances. While the Rams bullpen has a few things to figure out, having three capable seniors to rely on is a plus. 

Riverview's lineup has also been hot to start the year. Smalley has been leading the way there, too, posting a .500 average with four doubles, three triples and 10 RBI. Senior Dylan Wilds has contributed a .381 average and seven RBIs. The one thing the Rams have lacked offensively is a power streak; Riverview has just one home run on the year, an extra-innings shot by senior Chris Barr in the team's 7-5 win against Manatee High on March 8. 

But that's OK. The Rams are build for playing — and winning — close games. Four of the team's six wins have been by three runs or less. It's a skill the team has learned by playing challenging teams night after night. That lesson will continue to be learned as the team travels to Miami for games against American Heritage High, on March 18, and Doral Academy, on March 19. The tough road doesn't stop there. The Rams will play in the IMG National Classic March 29-April 1, then they will visit the top-ranked IMG National team on April 7. 

"I know we can handle it," Schmidt said. "It's going to prepare us. I want our guys fighting. When the playoffs come around you're going to be facing good pitching every night. You have to be ready for that. I'm challenging them right now and even though the score (against IMG) is not what we want, it only makes us better."



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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