By Jordan Kroeger, Suncoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — Caleb Williams threw what he usually throws on the pitchers’ mound Thursday night — a gem.
And that gem, combined by a big sixth inning from his offense, led Class 7A No. 2 Venice to an 8-0 victory over Charlotte. Williams struck out 11 and scattered four hits to help the Indians clinch the No. 1 seed and home field advantage throughout the District 7A-11 tournament where they’ll face fourth-seeded North Port.
The loss solidified the Tarpons as the No. 2 seed and they’ll face No. 3 Fort Myers in the event in two weeks.
“Locking up the No. 1 seed is our first goal. It’s not our No. 1 goal, but our first goal as far as winning goes — to play at home,” Venice coach Craig Faulkner said. “Playing at home is a one or two run advantage for us because we like being at home. We like sleeping in our beds and getting to our field when we get there and not having to get a bus and go somewhere where you might break down and stuff like that. This was a big goal for us.”
Williams threw a one-hitter against Charlotte on March 28, which was good enough for a 3-0 victory. But he got even more help from his offense Thursday, which included a two-run homer by Kyle Bachle and a five-run sixth inning highlighted by Mitch Donofrio’s bases-clearing triple.
The lefty ace retired eight hitters in a row at one point as Charlotte only put three runners in scoring position all night.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to the lefty. He’s got our number. It’s the second time we’ve faced him and he’s tough,” Charlotte coach Lavell Cudjo said. “He’s a good pitcher but we’ve got to make contact and put some pressure on him and we didn’t tonight and obviously the score dictated that.”
Conway started for the Tarpons and was responsible for all eight of Venice’s runs, pitching 5 1/3 innings while surrendering five hits and five walks to go along with four strikeouts. Four of those walks came in the sixth, including two with the bases loaded.
Donofrio went deep to left field in the second to put Venice up 2-0 early and an RBI double by Shane Shifflett extend to lead to 3-0 in the third. Conway then retired seven Indians in a row before running into trouble in the sixth.
Joe Kinker reached on an infield single to start the frame before Shifflett walked and Mac Gruscette moved the runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. Conway intentionally walked Chase Doyle to load the diamond only to then unintentionally walk Bachle and Justin Hanley to put Charlotte in a 5-0 hole.
That last free pass ended Conway’s night but not his stat line as reliever Hunter Groslos surrendered a two-out triple to Donofrio to score three more runs and extend Venice’s lead to 8-0.
“We had the wheels come off. Conway is a good pitcher when he’s dealing, but we’ve got to put pressure on those teams too,” Cudjo said. “Their kids hit the ball well. When they get runners on, their kids put a little pressure on. We don’t put pressure on when we’re not hitting the ball or putting runners on base. You can’t blame Conway. He did his job but we’ve got to help him.
“But we’ll be all right. “We’ll see (Venice) again.”
VENICE 8, CHARLOTTE 0
Venice 021 005 0 — 8 6 2
Charlotte 000 000 0 — 0 4 0
WP: Caleb Williams. LP: Kevin Conway. Leading hitters: (V) Kyle Bachle 1-2, HR, BB, 2 RBI, 2 R; Mitch Donofrio 1-3, 3B, BB, 3 RBI, R; (C) Shane LeMaster 2-3. Records: Venice (15-5, 5-1), Charlotte (11-5, 4-2).