By Nathan Cowan, Sun Correspondent
VENICE — Charlotte High School baseball coach Lavell Cudjo wanted his team to have an early season test.
The Canterbury Cougars from Fort Myers are the defending 3A state champions and looked like the exact kind of opponent Cudjo wanted. The Tarpons aced the test as they pounded the Cougars from start to finish en route to a 15-3 victory.
“This is the preseason and we have a long way to go,” Cudjo said. “With the guys we have returning, though, I knew we were capable of this.”
The Tarpons got out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first inning with the help of some poor defense from the Cougars. With one out, Shane LeMaster singled and moved to second after Canterbury failed to cover second on a ground ball. Robert Oettinger walked to load the bases. A wild pitch scored LeMaster, and after a walk scored another run, Kevin Conway singled to drive in Oettinger.
The Cougars responded with three runs of their own against Charlotte starter Jake Eastman in the bottom of the inning. After an error and fielders choice, Sam Keating doubled to left to put runners on second and third. Tyler Shuck followed with a triple and scored on a single by Alec Babb to tie the game at 3.
“We made some mistakes and had a couple of errors,” Cudjo said. “These kids have been playing baseball a long time and sometimes they try to do too much.”
Charlotte scratched across two runs in the second inning and never looked back. Chris Naskal walked and moved to second on an error. After a sacrifice and hit batter, Aaron Martin drove in Naskal on a fielder’s choice and Oettinger singled in Shane LeMaster.
Eastman settled in after facing all nine Canterbury batters in the first inning, striking out two batters in the second inning and shutting the Cougars down in order in the third.
The Tarpons’ offense stagnated through the middle innings, but Kyle Machado came on in relief on Eastman and retired all nine batters he faced in order.
“That’s what we’re going to be about this season,” Cudjo said. “Our pitching can carry us. And with our defense our pitchers can pitch to contact and we’ll make the play.”
Charlotte added two runs in the sixth inning to extend its lead to 7-3. In the seventh, the Tarpons batted around and sent 13 batters to the plate. The result was eight runs on seven hits, three walks and three errors.
“We’re starting to learn to count on the guy behind us,” Cudjo said. “We know that the guy behind us in the lineup can drive us in.”
Shane LeMaster led the Charlotte offense with three singles, three runs scored and two RBI. He also reached on a walk and was hit by a pitch. Lavell Cudjo Jr. added a double and a single and also drove in two runs. Conway hit two singles and drove in two runs while Oettinger drove in two runs. Naskal recorded two hits for the Tarpons.
Charlotte is back in preseason action again on Saturday morning at 11, facing the Miami S.L.A.M. at Venice High School.
CHARLOTTE 13, CANTERBURY 3
Charlotte 3 2 0 0 0 2 8 — 15 15 2
Canterbury 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 3 5 5
WP: Jake Eastman. LP: Giovanni DiGiaciamo. Leading Hitters: (CH) Shane LeMaster 3-3, 2 RBI, 3 R, Lavell Cudjo (CH) 2-4, 2B, 2 RBI; (CC) Tyler Shuck (CB) 1-3, 3B, 2 RBI.