“It meant everything, honestly,” he said. “I know the coaches and the whole team has trust in me. It’s big for me and my family.”
And Smalley was not going to let a couple of early runs or a rain delay stand in his way.
After giving up two runs in the top of the first inning, Smalley came out of a 51-minute rain delay in the bottom of the first and put up zeroes the rest of the way. His teammates made it count by scoring runs in five of the six innings they batted in a 5-2 victory over Out-of-Door Academy on Friday night at the Rams field at Sarasota Technical Institute.
The stoppage gave Smalley time to reflect.
“Honestly, I just sat there and thought,” he said. “I trusted my teammates that we were going to score runs and just hold them to two runs and that was it.”
After the first, Smalley allowed three hits and struck out the final hitter of the inning in each of the final six innings. The senior right-hander, who is the reigning Herald-Tribune Baseball Player of the Year, finished with 10 strikeouts and one walk in his 99-pitch, route-going performance.
“I definitely had more of a drive after giving up two runs and waiting there,” Smalley said. “Sitting there built up my drive, my adrenaline to go back out.”
“The first inning he was a little out of balance,” Schmidt said. “We got him to calm down. When he gets in his rhythm, you can see he’s locked in. He throws hard and everything was working.”
The Rams (14-6) scored one run in the first, second and third innings on a run-scoring groundout by Smalley, an error and RBI double by Cooper Bowditch, which proved to be the winning run.
Riverview added runs in the fifth and sixth on a sacrifice fly by Clay Russin and a run-producing single by Smalley.
On the mound, Smalley threw fastballs in, followed by a slider away and mixed in a couple of changeups.
“That was my first time throwing the slider tonight,” Smalley said. “I’m trying to work in everything.”
It was a battle of the area’s two best – and hottest – teams.
Riverview went 3-0 on the week and stretched its winning streak to five games. The Thunder had a streak of three straight games with 10 or more runs snapped, along with their three-game winning streak.
Out-of-Door defeated Riverview, 4-1, last year en route to the Thunder’s first state baseball championship.
“They’ve been waiting all year for this game,” Schmidt said. “They played us tough last year. They’re a good team. You always want to play the good teams, especially late in the year for rankings. We knew this was a big game. Mike’s team is always prepared.”
“It was a huge game,” Smalley said. “They beat us last year. We’ve been waiting for this game for a year.”
“Any time we play a team in the area where we know guys and we know they are a good competitive team, we get pretty riled up for it,” Out-of-Door coach Mike Matthews said. “At the end of the day, it’s another game on the schedule. We like to compete against teams like this. And we like to beat teams like this. Tonight, Pip threw a really good game.”
• The Thunder came out swinging, as leadoff hitter Aidan Marino opened the game with a single to right-center field. Giovanni Giuliani followed with a double to the right-center field gap scoring Marino. Giuliani came home on the second of three straight ground outs to Riverview shortstop Chris Barr.
• The Thunder were a different team after the rain delay. “Yeah, a little bit,” Matthews said. “Obviously, you don’t want that to happen with a 2-0 lead and getting the momentum going. It took the air out of our sails a little bit. Our guys did a good job of keeping the energy, but the momentum started to swing after that. We got a couple guys on base, but we couldn’t take advantage and get the momentum back.”
• Making his second start after a bout with the flu, Luke Geske battled through 3.1 innings, allowing five hits and three runs while walking one and striking out three. He also hit three batters. “He’s still a little rusty,” Matthews said. “The off-speed stuff wasn’t there and the consistency. Against a good team it’s hard to compete without that. He battled. He wasn’t as sharp as he could have been.”
• The Rams stranded nine base runners, four in scoring position. They left the bases loaded in the fourth inning. “We’ve been leaving a lot of base runners lately,” Schmidt said. “The good thing is we are getting the opportunities and the hits are going to come. We’re getting there. Guys are starting to grind at-bats. Guys are starting to get hot who started off slow. This is the time we are figuring it out. Our lineup is consistent, so everybody knows their role now.”
• Riverview leadoff hitter Dylan Wilds was hit with a pitch three times in four plate appearances. He scored twice. Smalley and Cooper Backman also were hit with pitches.
• Schmidt likes scheduling tough teams at the end of the season to prepare his team for the playoffs. And with the FHSAA power point system deciding seeding beyond the district champions, it adds importance. “With the ranking system, you’re kind of jockeying for position. Every game counts,” Schmidt said. “I want us to keep our intensity and stay consistent in what we are doing. We have 12 seniors. They’ve been battle tested since they were freshmen.”
Parrish Community 3, McKeel Academy 1
AT : McKeel Academy, Lakeland
TOP PLAYERS : PC, Ella Torres (2-3), Ella Romano (1-4, 2B), Carsyn Kull (1-3, 2B)
PITCHING : PC, (4 IP, 4Ks), Isabela Vega (3 IP, 3 hits, 1 run, 2 walks, 8 Ks)
Gulf Coast 17, Venice 7
AT : Gulf Coast High, Naples
TOP PLAYERS : Venice, Sophia Santagata (5 goals, 2 assists, 2 draw controls, 2 ground balls, ground ball, turnover caused); Kaya Bartlett (2 goals, assist, draw control, 4 ground balls, 2 interceptions)
No. 6 Sickles at No. 3 Riverview
No. 7 Manatee at No. 2 Newsome
No. 5 Saint Stephen’s at No. 4 Berkeley Prep
No. 8 Barron Collier at No. 1 Out-of-Door
No. 8 Riverview at No. 1 Plant
No. 6 Saint Stephen’s at No. 3 Cardinal Mooney
FHSAA Regional Semifinals
Matches 3 p.m. Tuesday
Class 4A boys
Manatee at Gulf Coast
Venice at Newsome
Class 4A girls
Lakewood Ranch at Venice
Class 2A boys
Estero at Lemon Bay
Class 2A girls
Estero at Lemon Bay
Class 1A boys
Fort Myers Canterbury at Saint Stephen’s
Cardinal Mooney at Community School of Naples
Class 1A girls
Seacrest Country Day at Saint Stephen’s
Dennis Maffezzoli is the deputy sports editor for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and chief reporter for Sarasota Herald-Tribune and HTpreps covering Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties. Support local journalism by subscribing.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: PREP ROUNDUP: Rams’ Smalley shuts down Out-of-Door Academy