North baseball clinches winning season
The Red Knights baseball team finished its season with a winning record.
Under the direction of head coach Mark Rose, the Red Knights achieved a hot streak at the end of the season, demonstrating an ability to stay in the game against some of the best teams in the area to end the season 14-13.
Taking into consideration the program struggled through previous seasons where one or two wins were the norm, it signifies real progress.
Unfortunately, for nearly every team in the state, the season has to end with a loss, and on Wednesday, that happened as North gave Fort Myers quite a scare before losing 9-6 in the semifinals of the District 5A-10 playoffs.
Fort Myers scored in every inning, building a picket fence with single runs in the first through fourth innings before a pair of two-run home runs late finally got the Green Wave in the clear.
North entered the game playing its best ball of the season, having won five straight, but it was an up-and-down season that saw the Red Knights win a few, then lose a few.
“I knew what we had. We were better than our record and had a lot of talent on this team. It was beginning to mesh,” Rose said. “We had three sophomores starting and had two five-game winning streaks this season. It was just consistency we didn’t have.”
It could only be described as a game of attrition as the teams slugged it out, at times sloppy in the field and looking for any decent arms to put on the mound and throw strikes.
In its district finale, North scored in the top of the first on Logan Wilsker’s RBI grounder to second, but Fort Myers responded on Jake D’Altrui’s two-out RBI triple to tie the game, then took the lead in the second on Brighton Edwell’s sacrifice fly to center.
North tied the game at two in the third inning on Blake Busbee’s RBI ground ball, but again Fort Myers responded on a throwing error that would turn out to be the game-winning run.
A bases-loaded walk to Carson Esposito gave Fort Myers a 4-2 lead, and the Green Wave appeared the break the game open in the fifth on Keaton Kenworthy’s two-run home run to left to make it 6-2.
That’s when Fort Myers nearly imploded, committing three errors (including an error by the catcher that allowed two to score) which allowed three runs to score and load the bases with one out in a 6-5 game before Fort Myers finally escaped.
It appeared Fort Myers was in the clear again on Will Goldman’s RBI single and D’Altrui’s two-run blast to make it 9-5, but four walks brought in another North Fort Myers run before a double play finally ended it.
“Give the credit to North Fort Myers, they didn’t give up, they were patient at the plate and made us throw strikes, which we weren’t able to do,” said Fort Myers coach Kyle Birchfield. “Even when we got those home runs, they didn’t give up.”
For Rose, leaving the bases loaded in the sixth and seventh innings (and stranding 10 runners on the night) was a tough pill to swallow.
“We just didn’t come up with the clutch hit. We made a couple infield errors and they swung the bat well and hit two big home runs,” Rose said. “I was proud of the fact we competed the whole game.”
North will lose ace pitcher Wilsker and Landon Ford to graduation, but will see much of its starting lineup return next season, including its top three hitters, Gavin Hause, Blake Busbee and Justin Corbett.