Game Of The Year Contender: Oak Hall Gets Their Revenge On Union County In Thrilling Fashion

The sun beams down on Roger Maris Field. It’s only 84 degrees, but it feels a lot hotter. The temperature doesn’t bother anyone. All anyone can feel is the excitement in the air. The crowd had already begun hooting and hollering. Oak Hall’s players took to the field and embraced in the infield. Union County’s players slowly retreated back to their own dugout, in shock of what had just happened. Oak Hall had just won their tenth game of the season, avenging their loss to the Tigers earlier in the year.

The Union County Fightin’ Tigers took down Oak Hall Eagles in extra innings two weeks ago. The Tigers walked away with a narrow 8-7 win. The Eagles did not forget their disappointment from coming up short in such an important game. They responded, and responded with force, in perhaps their biggest win of the season on Monday. Some stellar performances on the mound and some late-game heroics at the plate lifted the Eagles to a 5-2 victory.

Monday’s game ended up being Oak Hall’s lowest-scoring game of the season, with both teams combining for only seven runs. As a reference, Oak Hall alone has averaged over 12 runs per game this season. The Eagles’ pitching played a major role in this dominant defensive performance.

Standout Performances
Oak Hall lined up in their dugout during the pre-game introductions.

Troy Freeman got the start on the mound, and he did not disappoint. In 4 2/3 innings pitched, Freeman only gave up four hits, four walks and two runs while throwing seven strikeouts. Ethan Szlachetka took the mound midway through the fifth inning and ended up closing out the game. He pitched for 2 1/3 innings and only gave up one walk, allowing no hits or runs. He also threw three strikeouts of his own.

Szlachetka also drove in what ended up being the game-winning run for Oak Hall. His fifth-inning 3-RBI triple allowed the Eagles to take control of Monday’s outing. Emory Ezzell and Brody Beaupre also chipped in with two hits each to help facilitate Oak Hall’s offense. Harrison Beach hit an RBI single late in the game to extend Oak Hall’s lead to three runs. Jackson Beach was walked three times by Union County while also snagging a double in the third inning.

Multiple Baffling Moments To Start Off The Game

Freeman got off to a red-hot start on the mound, only allowing one hit and throwing two strikeouts in the first inning. The Eagles stepped to the plate with the game wide open, but a perplexing bottom half of the inning kept them off the board.

Union County walked Jackson Beach to start off the inning. Two at-bats later, Jack Kuzmicki hit a line drive straight to the Tigers’ second baseman. After the second baseman threw the ball straight to first base, everyone’s confusion became apparent. It was apparently unclear if he had caught Kuzmicki’s ball, and as a result, if Beach had tagged out since the fielder believed the ball was in play.

Jackson Beach in the batter’s box early on in Oak Hall’s matchup against Union County.

To make matters worse, only one umpire was present at Monday’s game. As a result, there was no first base umpire, meaning no one got a clear enough view of the play. Kuzmicki took advantage of the ensuing chaos. He went on to advance to second base; the umpire eventually called Jackson Beach out at first, but Kuzmicki safe at second.

After Union County walked Szlachetka in the following at-bat, Freeman stepped to the plate. With Kuzmicki still at second, Union County’s pitcher attempted to pick him off twice. His first attempt failed, but his second attempt succeeded. This infuriated the crowd and Eagles Head Coach Kevin Maris, as Kuzmicki had appeared to be safe to them.

Despite the team’s protests, the call from the home plate umpire stood. Maris emphasized to his players to stay focused and not let moments like those drag them down. It appears the team heard his message loud and clear.

“There were a couple of calls that could’ve gone either way,” Maris said. “The guys didn’t get rattled. They just went ahead and stuck to business.”

A Scoreless Second Inning Continues The Stalemate

The Eagles’ defense once again made easy work of the Tigers in the second inning. Union County only advanced one man to first base via a walk; the runner was eventually caught stealing, helping to keep the Tigers off the board.

Neil Ruth was called out by the home plate umpire on this play.

In the bottom half of the second inning, the Eagles only recorded one hit, although another controversial call played a sizable role in Oak Hall’s reduced offensive output.

Freeman hit a flyout in the Eagles’ first at-bat of the inning. Neil Ruth then stepped into the batter’s box and knocked a hard ground ball into left field. Union County’s shortstop made a long throw to the first baseman. Despite Ruth and the rest of the team believing he had safely made it on base, the umpire called him out.

Ezzell picked up a single in the following at-bat, but Union County quickly finished off the inning with a ground out from Beaupre. Even after the inning had finished, there were still murmurs of disbelief from Oak Hall’s dugout about the call. Nevertheless, the team kept their heads up and continued moving forward in the game.

Finding Their Groove As The Game Went On

The Tigers came within striking distance in the top of the third inning. After the Tigers picked up a single and an HBP (hit by pitch), they eventually advanced their runners to second and third base. However, Freeman kept his composure, and just like he has all year, he delivered when it mattered the most. With the count at 1-2, Freeman caught a Union County batter swinging for his fifth strikeout on the day. For the third straight inning, he managed to keep the Tigers off the board.

Freeman had a difficult responsibility managing the mound on Monday. With a team of Union County’s caliber and plenty of heckling from the opposing dugout, pitchers can easily get carried away in a situation like that. Freeman’s key to succeeding in moments like those is remaining in his zone and not letting his emotions take control of him.

“It’s a lot about emotions when you’re on the mound. You can’t let that emotion get out,” Freeman said. “I could be mad or happy, but it would all be in here, I wouldn’t let it out.” 

After 2 1/2 scoreless innings, the Eagles finally broke the stalemate in the bottom of the third inning. A double from Jackson Beach gave Oak Hall their first extra-base hit of the afternoon. In the ensuing at-bat, Kuzmicki hit a ground ball to the shortstop, but the throw to tag him out went over the first baseman’s head; Beach subsequently scored on the play.

With the Eagles having taken their first lead of the game, Freeman had a little more breathing room to work with. He kept his dominant performance rolling, striking out yet another two batters. Freeman’s seven Ks on the day tied his season-high for strikeouts in a game.

Inning V: The Tigers Strike Back

The Eagles did not score in the bottom of the fourth inning, but they continued to hold on to their lead as they entered the fifth inning. However, their lead soon dissipated following a resurgence from Union County’s offense.

Oak Hall got off to a strong start in the inning, snagging a ground out and a flyout in Union County’s first two at-bats. However, things started to go awry soon after. The Tigers picked up back-to-back walks, giving them runners on first and second base. Oak Hall elected to intentionally walk the following batter, loading the bases for Union County.

Freeman heads back to the dugout after striking out his fifth batter on the day. He finished with seven strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings pitched.

Despite Freeman picking up two strikes in the next at-bat, Union County’s Trevon Lee did not go down without a fight. With the count at 2-2, he hit a single into center field that drove in two runs. The Tigers had now taken their first lead of the game. Szlachetka took the mound in relief of Freeman and picked up a quick ground out to end the inning.

While the team was in a less-than-ideal situation, the Eagles did not panic. With a high-powered offense that had served them well all year, they knew they could get back at any given moment. It was just a matter of if and when that moment would come.

“It’s the same thing you always have to think of,” Beaupre said. “You just have to have the same mentality of ‘be productive, do something to help the team and do what you have to do.’”

Holding Out For A Hero… Again

The Tigers temporarily captured some momentum with a strong offensive outing in the fifth inning. Nevertheless, the Eagles immediately responded with some offensive firepower of their own. Beaupre led off the inning with a well-hit single into center field.

Freeman (left), Szlachetka (center) and Kuzmicki (right) all take the field for Oak Hall in the sixth inning.

After a pop-out from Aaron Akins, Jackson Beach notched his second walk of the game. Kuzmicki went on to grab a walk of his own two at-bats later, loading the bases for Oak Hall. However, with a strikeout from Harrison Beach prior to Kuzmicki’s walk, the Eagles had also already picked up two outs on the inning.

With the stakes as high as they could have possibly been, Szlachetka grabbed his bat, strutted over to the batter’s box and awaited the pitch. He immediately saw a pitch he liked and proceeded to blast it into right field. For a few seconds, it looked like the ball would clear the fence, but it came up just short. However, the ball stayed fair and the Tigers failed to catch it.

The Eagles’ runners sprinted around the bases at full speed, and all but Szlachetka made it home. Szlachetka wound up securing his second triple of the season. The crowd had gotten on its feet. The dugout was going nuts. Oak Hall was back in the driver’s seat.

“When I was coming up to the plate, obviously I wanted to do something good. But I wasn’t expecting that, that wasn’t the goal up there,” Szlachetka said. “I saw a first pitch fastball, and I knew I could damage with it, so I swung… I saw it hit the warning track, and I just turned on the burners trying to get to third.”

Szlachetka and the entire Eagles roster faced multiple high-tension scenarios in Monday’s game. However, the team’s mental strength showed in their victory. Coach Maris noted how he has instilled some of the philosophies from his father, MLB legend Roger Maris, into his players.

“Pressure is what you put on yourself,” Maris said. “Like my dad said, ‘We don’t recognize [pressure]. It’s not in our vocabulary.’”

Maintaining Their Lead Throughout The Later Innings

Szlachetka’s clutchness at the plate carried over to his performance on the mound. In Union County’s first plate appearance in the sixth inning, Eli Rimes got ahead of Szlachetka in the count. However, with the count sitting at 3-1, Szlachetka caught Rimes with a foul ball and a swinging strike to put him away.

Soon after, Blake Agner took to the plate for the Tigers. It was an ironic meeting, considering the events of the previous meeting between Oak Hall and Union County. After Agner secured a hit in the eighth inning, he ran over Szlachetka at first base, causing some commotion both on the field and in the stands.

Kuzmicki (#10) and the Beaches celebrate at the plate after scoring on Szlachetka’s triple.

Szlachetka stated after the game he did not believe the play by Agner was dirty. Nonetheless, the two players crossing paths once again presented Szlachetka with an opportunity to get some payback. And that he did. Agner did not make contact with the ball once as he, too, was sat down on strikes.

Union County’s final batter in the inning, Trevor Holtzendorf, did not even get much of a chance at the plate. In just three pitches, Szlachetka picked up his third consecutive strikeout to keep the Tigers at bay.

With the odds already in their favor for this one, the Eagles added on to their lead in the bottom of the inning. Ezzell and Beaupre each got on base with a pair of singles, while Jackson Beach was walked for a third time to load the bases. With two outs already on the board, Harrison Beach came through with a line drive into center field to bring home another run for the Eagles.

“I had been struggling all game, so I just wanted to go up there and really do what was best for my team,” Harrison Beach said. “I went up there and softened things up. Coach Hill told me to ‘be quiet’ with my swing, and that’s exactly what I did.”

Getting The Job Done In The Final Inning

Oak Hall entered the final inning of play holding on to their three-run lead. They were just three outs away from putting the Tigers away for good. The Eagles immediately picked up their first out with a ground out over to Kuzmicki at first base. Szlachetka walked the following batter. The Union County dugout was initially ecstatic that they had gotten a runner on base. However, this runner set the Eagles up for a nearly perfect finish to the game.

The Tigers’ next batter, Jakeb O’Steen, hit a ground ball towards Jackson Beach. In the blink of an eye, Jackson tagged second base and quickly flicked the ball towards his brother Harrison. Harrison then made a swift throw over to first base to secure the final out of the game. Just like that, the Eagles had clinched the victory.

“Coach Hill told us to pinch in, so he had us in the perfect position,” Harrison Beach said. “I’ve always had that twin connection with Jackson, so right when that ball was hit to Jackson, I knew we were getting them out. He just flipped it to me, and we made a nice play.”

Celebrating A Hard-Earned Win

The Eagles’ victory against the Tigers could not have been sweeter. As of April 14, the Tigers were ranked 172 spots higher than the Eagles in the state of Florida. (The Tigers are ranked #127, while the Eagles are ranked #279.) After coming up just short in their previous matchup, it is safe to say the Eagles will soon be on the rise in these rankings.

The Eagles will look to keep their momentum rolling against P.K. Yonge this Friday. With the team having secured their second five-game win streak in a row this season, they hope to carry over this level of success into their coming games.

“You just have to stay in the game and in the moments,” Beaupre said. “You really want to do your best in everything… Do what you’ve got to do to [make] good things happen.”

About Jack Meyer

Jack Meyer is a first-year student at the University of Florida. He is majoring in Journalism and specializing in Sports and Media.

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