By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
VENICE — The North Port High School baseball team kept the District 7A-11 title game close as long as it could.
When Venice struck for two in the first inning, North Port tied it in the second. When the Indians mounted scoring threats in the second and fourth innings, the Bobcats held them to one run each time.
But like it does against a lot of teams it plays, Venice proved too much in an 8-2 victory. The defending state champions broke the game open with a four-run fourth inning and coasted to their fourth straight district crown and 10th in the past 12 years.
“This is obviously a tough atmosphere to come in and play and steal a win,” North Port coach Dan Pavlue said. “We had one rough inning there. But if you take that away, it was a very close ballgame.”
The Indians got off to a fast start against Bobcats left-hander Charlie Davidson, turning a pair of leadoff bunt singles in the top of the first into two early runs on a Scott DuBrule sacrifice fly and Jake Grubbs RBI single.
That might have been enough of a cushion for Venice starter Trevor Holloway on a lot of nights, but not on Thursday. With a group of scouts watching the senior right-hander from the front rows of the bleachers, Holloway served up a game-tying two-run home run — the first he had allowed this season — to North Port designated hitter Patrick Smith in the top of the second
“That was a great moment,” Pavlue said. “That was a big confidence-booster for him, and it definitely got our team back in it.”
But the Indians regained the led in the bottom of that same frame on Brent Killam’s RBI infield single to second base, and Colton Frazier doubled it in the fourth with an run-scoring base-hit to left.
That made it 4-2, and the Bobcats couldn’t hold on any longer. Davidson gave up consecutive singles to Grubbs and Matt Donofrio with one out in the fifth, then walked Shane Shifflet and Holloway to force in a fifth run before coming out of the game after 4 1⁄3 innings pitched (three hits, eight runs, three walks, three strikeouts).
Kody Brittain relieved him with the bases loaded and allowed all three inherited runners to score, giving up a two-run double to Joe Kinker and a sacrifice fly to Rylee Buckmaster to bring the game to it’s final 8-2 margin.
North Port, meanwhile, only put four more runners on base after Smith’s second-inning home run. Holloway allowed just two runs (one earned) on three hits over four innings pitched to earn the win, and Killam struck out three and retired the final seven batters he faced in three scoreless innings of relief.
“This was a tough game to win,” Venice coach Craig Faulkner said. “North Port played great and they’ve gotten better all year. I was telling my players not to take this lightly because there’s a lot of schools in the area that haven’t won a district championship in a long time. It’s something to be very proud of.”
The Bobcats will go on the road to face the winner of tonight’s District 7A-12 title game between Naples and Palmetto in a regional quarterfinal on Wednesday, while Venice will host the loser.
“They need to keep their heads up,” Pavlue said of the Bobcats. “There’s a strong chance we could see this game repeated in a couple of weeks.”
VENICE 8, NORTH PORT 2
North Port 020 000 0 — 2 4 2
Venice 210 140 x — 8 11 2
WP: Trevor Holloway. LP: Charlie Davidson: Leading hitters: Patrick Smith (NP) 1-3, HR, 2 RBI; Joe Kinker (V) 3-3, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R. Records: North Port 13-15, Venice 22-5.