By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — When Charlotte baseball coach Lavell Cudjo took over the varsity squad in 2015, he told the school, “give me three years.”
Within three years, he said the program’s playoff drought — which started in 2010 — would finally end under his watch.
And on Tuesday night, Cudjo fulfilled his promise.
Behind a complete-game performance by Kyle Machado and a four-run first inning, Charlotte defeated Fort Myers 6-1 in the District 7A-11 semifinals to earn its first regional playoff berth in eight years. The Tarpons also earned a spot in Thursday’s district championship game against Venice, which defeated North Port in the district’s other semifinal Tuesday night.
“I put a staff together and I said give me three years to make everything better. Not saying it was bad, but we had some work to do,” Cudjo said. “I’m proud of these kids. This is big. It’s been since 2009 since we made some noise. I’m excited. I’m excited for the kids. I told them the pressure is off. Anything can happen from here on out, no pressure anymore. We can go play and have fun. We get two extra games so I’m excited for the boys.”
Machado scattered four hits, giving up his only run in the second inning with the Tarpons already ahead 4-0. The FGCU commit settled in as the night progressed, striking out three over the final four innings to send his team to the playoffs.
“I just wanted to come out here and deal so I told (Cudjo) to give me the ball,” Machado said. “I was kind of scratchy so I’m just lucky my defense helped me out.”
Fort Myers committed five errors in the game and three in the first inning to help Charlotte jump on the scoreboard fast. The Tarpons sent 10 batters to the plate in the frame, scoring three runs on three errors and another on an RBI single by Kevin Conway.
The third run was enough to end Fort Myers starter Andrew Dailey’s night after just two-thirds of an inning. He gave up three singles, walked one batter and hit another out of the eight Tarpons he faced. Jason Schumbacker replaced Dailey and immediately saw his infield commit its third error to put Charlotte ahead 4-0.
“We usually see a guy that throws with a little more velocity so it was tough for them to stay back but I told them to just make contact. I think that’s the name of the game,” Cudjo said. “Anybody you play, they’re still high school kids and they still have to field the ball so they happened to make errors and it went our way. But we did make contact so we did what we were supposed to do.”
Machado surrendered an RBI double to Grant Boland in the second but his offense gave him a run right back in the bottom of the inning. Fort Myers committed its fourth error to allow Machado to reach base and he later scored on Aaron Martins’ fielder’s choice to put Charlotte up 5-1.
The Tarpons added another run in the fourth on an RBI single from Martins, who finished 2-for-3.
Cudjo was visibly pumped after the game, jumping in the air with a fist pump as he walked to the team huddle just outside the infield. Now he hopes his team can finally end its losing streak against Venice on Thursday to bring the school a district championship.
“There’s no pressure on us now. Nobody expects us to win that game. I want to shock everybody,” Cudjo said. “The kids are loose, they’re happy, so let’s go up there and swing the bats and let the baseball gods decide.”
CHARLOTTE 6, FORT MYERS 1
Fort Myers 010 000 0 — 1 4 5
Charlotte 410 100 x — 6 8 0
WP: Kyle Machado. LP: Andrew Dailey. Leading hitters: (CHS) Aaron Martins 2-3, RBI, R; Kyle Machado 1-4, 2 R; Kevin Conway 1-4, RBI. (FM) Grant Boland 1-3, 2B, RBI. Records: Charlotte 17-6, Fort Myers 13-13.