The biggest debate of Thursday’s Region 1-3A quarterfinal playoff game wasn’t whether North Florida Christian baseball coach Mike Posey should or shouldn’t take out starting pitcher Cole Sands.
The debate was ‘Hit or Error,’ which depended entirely on which team’s viewpoint was “correct”— NFC or visiting North Bay Haven.
In the end, Sands’ potential complete game no-hitter was a moot point, as Posey turned to junior Cole Ragans in the fifth and final inning of NFC’s 10-0 win over the Buccaneers. The Eagles’ deep and talented pitching staff needed live game action.
“We had planned to get Ragans some work, because we’ve got to get these guys in,” said Posey, who hadn’t used Ragans since a win over Lincoln two weeks ago. “You throw no-hitters in your career, but combined no-hitter we’ll call it. If we’d have played seven innings, we’d probably have brought (third starter Chris) Corneil in.”
Sands struck out eight Bucs batters over his four innings of no-hit work. He walked two, and the asterisk at-bat came in the second inning when Bucs catcher Thomas Hickman hit a hard groundball up the middle and it bounced underneath the armpit of shortstop Logan Dungey. The ball never hit Dungey, inviting a ‘Hit’ ruling, but the press box saw routine positioning, even if Dungey did range to his left.
“I threw a few more balls than I wanted to, but at the end of the day it was a good game, can’t complain,” said Sands, who knocked in three runs on a single in the first and a two-run double in the second, the latter a seven-run inning. “I feel like the last inning I came out and commanded the fastball a little better.”
Sands (4-1) struck out the side in the first and then did so again in the fourth. The hardest hit ball against him went for a long foul ball to the wall on the third batter of the game. Ragans came on in the fifth and proceeded to strike out the side.
“Both Cole’s threw really well,” Posey said. “Sands threw really well and he’s been hot lately, but we haven’t gotten him much run support. He’s got six no-decisions, but last week and today threw really well.”
Eagles outfielder Ethan Michaelis, an arm that didn’t get used on the mound, hit a two-run homerun in NFC’s big second inning. The defending 3A state champs capitalized on nine walks and three errors by North Bay Haven (9-12).
“It’s a good feeling,” Michaelis said. “We just need everyone to come together and for the bottom of the lineup to hit as well as the top of the lineup. If we do that, I think we’ll go pretty far.”
Jordan Bennett hit an RBI triple in the fourth to put the 10-run mercy rule into effect. The Eagles will face Maclay in the regional semifinal next week after the Marauders beat Rocky Bayou on the road, 3-1.
NFC knows it has a tough path to become a repeat state champion. The good news is the Eagles’ pitching never dropped off as the other components for winning developed.
“We’re a different team than a year ago, and obviously we’ve got great pitching with those guys, but I think we’ve learned a lot through the year,” Posey said. “We’ve learned that everything counts— a bunt, going from first to third, we’ve run the bases better, we’re putting the ball in play. It’s important to score runs with guys like that on the mound. If you score four or five runs, you’re probably going to win.”
NFC 10, North Bay Haven 0
North Bay Haven 000 00X X — 0 0 3
NFC 270 1XX X — 10 6 1
WP — Cole Sands (4-1). LP — Kevin Clagett
North Bay Haven— Kevin Clagett (LP – 1.2 IP, 8 R, 6 ER, 3 H, 6 BB, 3 K) 0-2; Josh Stewart (2.1 IP, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 H, 3 BB, 2 K)
NFC— Cole Sands (WP – 4 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 H, 2 BB, 8 K) 2-3, 3 RBI, 2B; Ethan Michaelis 1-2, 2 RBI, R, HR; Landon Seymour 0-1, 2 R, 2 BB; Matthew Dickey 0-0, RBI, R, BB; Taylor Schmidt 1-1, BB; Trey Pearce 1-2, 2 R, SB, BB; Jordan Bennett 1-3, RBI, 3B; Cole Ragans (1 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 3 K)
Records: North Bay Haven (9-12), NFC (18-9)
Next game: Maclay at NFC, Region 1-3A semifinal, May 5