BASEBALL: Venice tops Charlotte in District Championship

By Scott Lockwood, SunCoast Sports
Charlotte head coach Lavell Cudjo knew his team would have to play a clean game if they wanted to have a shot against Venice in Thursday night’s District 7A-11 title game at Venice High School.
The Tarpons got off to a promising start before a pair of errors opened the flood gates for a five-run third inning for Venice. Charlotte couldn’t recover from the onslaught and the Indians eventually rode on to their fifth straight district title with a 9-2 victory.
Charlotte got on board immediately when Garrett Dunson scored on a groundout in the top of the first. Kyle Machado drove in his second run of the night with a run-scoring single that sent Dustin Thomas across the plate for a 2-0 Charlotte lead after the top of the third.
“The plan was working and we came out swinging the bats,” Cudjo said.
Jake Starck put Venice on the board with a two-out double down the left field line. Joe Kinker would reach on an error by Charlotte first baseman Robert Oettinger and the Indians made the Tarpons pay dearly. Ramon Cordero drove in a run and Mac Guscette cleared the bases with a two-run double.
By the time the dust settled on the third inning, Venice sent 10 hitters to the plate and tagged Charlotte pitcher Kevin Conway for four unearned runs on five hits and a pair of errors.
“If you play clean, you have a chance,” Cudjo said. “If you start making errors like that the wheels fall off. You have to tip your hat to them with their situational hitting. When the wheels came off for us, Venice kept hitting. If you give them more than three outs it’s going to be a lopsided score every time.
“They aren’t eight or nine runs better than we are…but tonight they were.”
Venice kept the hits coming in the bottom of the fourth. A single by Shane Shifflett and a sharp double down the right field line gave the Indians three more runs and effectively put the game out of reach.
“Our guys were swinging the bats well,” Venice head coach Craig Faulkner said. “We started sitting back on their pitcher a little bit and the guys drove the ball.”
Starck, Shifflett and Cordero all had three hits for Venice. Starck drove in the final run of the night in bottom of the fifth.
“Our team was focused and the guys were ready,” Faulkner said. “We don;t taking winning district championships for granted. It’s not an easy thing to do and these guys wanted to win it for Venice High School and this community, so I’m real proud of them.”
Venice pitchers Brad Jones, Brant Brown, Kyle Bachle and Danny Rodriguez held Charlotte to no runs over the final four innings. It was a bit of a strategy change for Venice, which usually sees one pitcher go fairly deep into games.
“We really wanted to throw a lot of pitchers tonight and we didn’t want to give them the same look every time for the whole game,” Faulkner said. “Each one of those guys has something special they do on the mound and we don’t want them staying out there too long so the other guys figure it out.”
Charlotte (17-7) will be hitting the road for their first regional berth since 2009. They will travel to the winner of Friday night’s Estero/Naples Gulf Coast match-up. The loser of that game will head to Venice (21-7) on Tuesday, meaning the Indians and Tarpons could square off again in the regional semifinal.
“We’re going to shake this off, get to work Monday and be ready to go,” Cudjo said. “We’re swinging the bats well and if we clean it up defensively we’ll be okay.”
Charlotte 101 000 0 — 2 8 3
Venice 005 310 x — 9 13 0
WP: Brant Brown. LP: Kevin Conway. Leading hitters: (V) Shane Shifflett 3-4, 2 RBI, 2 runs; Jake Starck 3-4, 2B, 2 RBI, run; Ramon Cordero 3-4, 2B, RBI, run.(CHS) Chris Naskale 2-3, 2B; Kyle Machado 2 RBI Records: Venice 21-7, Charlotte 17-7.

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