BASEBALL: North Port can’t escape early hole against Venice

By Scott Lockwood, SunCoast Sports

VENICE — Venice’s baseball team has come up with the perfect recipe for winning close games the last couple of weeks: score a couple of runs early and ride some dominant pitching to the victory.

In a near replay of their 3-0 win over Charlotte earlier this week, Venice notched a pair of runs in the first inning of Friday night’s district matchup with North Port and let pitchers Brant Brown and Brad Jones do the rest. Brown held the Bobcats to a single hit over the first four innings, and Jones retired nearly every batter he faced as the Indians took a 2-0 win over the Bobcats.

Venice’s bats and some struggles on defense for the Bobcats allowed the Indians to get on the board first. Jake Starck reached on a fielding error by North Port shortstop Logan Polston and Joey Kinker advanced to second on a throwing error after his single to left.

Both runners scored on Mac Guscette’s liner to center, with Kinker being called safe at the plate after a collision with North Port catcher Nathan Vetter.

“He’s not as consistent as he’s going to be someday, but he’s had some big at-bats for us and he’s working on some things at the plate,” Venice head coach Craig Faulkner said of Guscette, his freshman catcher. “He’s a clutch guy and we’re excited about him.”

The errors proved to be a dagger against a Venice team that’s one of the state’s top defensive units.

“Our defense has been a little inconsistent,” North Port head coach Dan Pavlue said. “That’s not the first time that’s happened, but we’re hoping it’s the last. We’re going to keep working hard at it to try and improve.”

North Port pitcher Tyler O’Boyle retired the final Venice hitter of the first and didn’t allow another hit until Starck’s single to right in the fifth. Guscette pounded a ball toward the wall in left in the sixth, only to see North Port left fielder Dominic LeFever make the catch at the warning track.

“We got a couple of runs early, but we’ve got to keep putting more pressure on during the game,” Faulkner said. “We’re halfway through the season and one of our goals is to have some stronger at-bats and to continue with pressure.”

Brown only allowed a single to Charlie Davidson in the third before leaving with five strikeouts in the fourth. Jones came in and did the rest — including striking out the final five North Port hitters of the game.

“We know Brad is going to do a good job in a relief role because he comes in, throws hard, throws strikes and he’s got some off-speed stuff to go with it,” Faulkner said. “He’s a real asset coming out of the bullpen.”

North Port finished with three errors and several base running mistakes that could have made it a closer game.

“If you’re going to come in here and beat a team like Venice, you have to play a clean baseball game,” Pavlue said. “You can’t have errors, you can’t make mistakes on the bases and give them any room to breathe. Unfortunately, we did all those tonight. As hitters we looked to draw walks and looked for things to be handed to us instead of going out and making something happen.”

North Port fell to 8-8 and faces Charlotte in another district game on Tuesday night.

North Port 000 000 0 — 0 1 3
Venice 200 000 — 2 3 1
WP: Brant Brown; LP: Tyler O’Boyle; Save: Brad Jones. Leading hitters: (NP) Charlie Davidson 1-3; Dominic Lefever 2 BB. (V) Mac Guscette 1-3, 2 RBI; Joey Kinker 1-3, Run; Records: Venice 13-3, North Port 8-8.

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