By Steve Knapp, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — This is the time of the season when a coach wants his team to be playing its best ball as district action begins next week. The Charlotte Tarpons are in that zone as they knocked off Lemon Bay 13-3 Tuesday night.
Warrner Rincones got the Manta Rays on the board right away with his leadoff triple in the corner to right. Jacob Treece bounced out to put the Manta Rays on top 1-0.
Lemon Bay’s Trey Fields struck out the side in the first, but between the first and second strikeout, Lavell Cudjo singled and Kyle Machado walked on four pitches. Robert Oettinger took the first pitch he saw and hit a “no doubter” deep into the night over the right field fence.
“I knew it was out. He threw it right down the middle. He hung a changeup and I hit it pretty good,” Oettinger said.
Oettinger has had a thick beard since his freshman year and gives the dark growth credit for his success.
“It has served me pretty well so I’m not going to shave it off. I give my mom credit for that, she’s Italian,” Oettinger said.
It was the “Bearded Blaster’s” second big fly of the year.
The Manta Rays tried to come back but “the pitcher’s best friend” got in the way. With a man on and one out in the second, Matt Molinari hit a hard two-hopper up the middle. Slick fielding shortstop Garrett Dunson came up with it going towards the bag and turned it into an inning-ending twin killing.
After Lemon Bay cut the Tarpon lead to 3-2 in the third on a run scoring double by Jacob Treece, “The pitcher’s best friend” struck again. With runners on first and second Tyler Kreissler, who is second in the area with a .422 batting average, hit a screaming one-hopper to Dustin Thomas at second. Thomas flipped it to Dunson and the relay back to first ended another scoring threat for the Manta Rays.
The Tarpons put the game away with a six-run fourth inning. It all started with a walk and an error that was followed by a double and five singles as the Tarpons sent 11 batters to the plate to take a 10-2 lead.
“We came out flat and it continued throughout the whole game,” Lemon Bay coach Casey Hanrahan said. “At some points our pitching let us down, at some points our defense let us down and at other times it was our bats that let us down. It just wasn’t a good game over all. In order to compete we had to bring our best tonight and we didn’t do that. You have to give it to Charlotte, they’re a good team and they are playing well.”
The Tarpons banged out 14 hits and played error-free ball. Cudjo was on base five times with a pair of singles, two free passes and in his last at bat he was hit by the pitch. The speedy centerfielder also stole two bases.
Kevin Conway went 3-4, scored twice and knocked in a run. Cade Reich, who was just brought up from the junior varsity team, had a pinch-hit double to knock in two runs in the fifth.
Even with all of that Tarpon offense, it was Oettinger’s night. He knocked in four runs with a homer, two singles and pair of walks. The stage was set for Oettinger to knock in the final run to end the game by the mercy rule in the sixth.
With runners in scoring position at second and third, Oettinger hit a line drive to center to give his team a 13-3 win. Hunter Grosklos went five innings to get the win. He allowed all three runs on eight hits and fanned four.
“I feel I had a good night. It’s been awhile since I pitched because I had a blood blister on my finger and I was getting tired. I usually close but I started tonight for the third time this season. My curve was a little iffy to begin with but then I found my arm slot and it was good then,” Grosklos said.
Charlotte coach Lavell Cudjo was pleased as to how his team is playing.
“We know our pitching will keep us in the games, and as long as our bats come alive, we’ll be OK. We need to keep our bats going and make contact and finish strong. We need to score early and that helps the hitters relax,” Cudjo said.
CHARLOTTE 13, LEMON BAY 3
Lemon Bay 101 010 X — 3 9 1
Charlotte 301 621 X — 13 14 0
WP: Hunter Grosklos, LP: Trey Fields. Leading hitters: (LB) Jacob Treece 2-3, 2 RBI; (CH) Robert Oettinger 3-3, 4 R, 4 RBI, 2 BB; Kevin Conway 3-4 2 R, RBI; Lavell Cudjo 2-2, 2R, 2 BB, 1 HBP; Cade Reich 1-1 2 RBI. Records: Charlotte 16-6, Lemon Bay 13-9.