Oak Hall Eliminated From Regional Playoffs After A Difficult Battle With North Florida Christian

A stellar 2022 campaign for the Oak Hall Eagles ended in Tallahassee this past Wednesday. While Oak Hall initially hung in there with the North Florida Christian Eagles, a pair of tumultuous innings dashed Oak Hall’s hopes of pulling off the upset. After 6 2/3 innings, NFC clinched a double-digit lead to walk away with a 12-2 mercy-rule win. Oak Hall gave up a pair of 3-run homers in the fifth inning to essentially seal the deal.

Despite NFC’s late-game surge, Oak Hall refused to give in. Multiple players finished the day with some solid performances. Oak Hall star Jack Kuzmicki went 2-for-3 at the plate in Wednesday’s game. He drove in a run for the Eagles with a well-hit ground ball early in the game. He also picked up a walk and a stolen base as well. Jackson Beach, Neil Ruth and Ethan Szlachetka each finished with one hit on the day for Oak Hall. Beach also managed to score a run in the first inning.

Oak Hall also managed to initially keep NFC’s offense off the board in the first three innings of the game. Troy Freeman, who got the start for Oak Hall on the mound, played a key role in the team’s early defensive resistance. However, NFC eventually got hot on the bats and never looked back.

Troy Freeman resting in Oak Hall’s dugout prior to taking the mound.

Freeman pitched for four innings and allowed eight hits, six runs and three walks. Immediately after Freeman stepped off the mound, NFC blasted out their first home run of the game. Emory Ezzell, Kuzmicki and Szlachetka all took the mound for Oak Hall in the final two innings of play. The three pitchers allowed a combined total of four hits, six runs and five walks.

Oak Hall Starts Off Strong With An Early Lead

Entering Wednesday’s game as a massive underdog, Oak Hall surprised the NFC crowd with some impressive play in the first two innings. NFC’s starting pitcher initially struggled with throwing strikes. Beach, Kuzmicki and Freeman were all walked in their first-inning plate appearances. Despite having already picked up two outs, Oak Hall now had the bases loaded.

Soon enough, NFC walked Szlachetka as well, allowing Beach to advance to home plate and score. A fielder’s choice in the subsequent at-bat nullified Kuzmicki’s attempt to score at home plate. However, the team had already struck first, giving them some early momentum to keep them going on the defensive end.

In the bottom of the first inning, NFC picked up a single and a walk in their first two plate appearances. However, Freeman and Oak Hall’s defense responded by picking up three consecutive outs to halt NFC’s offense in its tracks. Ezzell snagged a pop out in foul territory for out number one. Kuzmicki tagged out another NFC runner on a fielder’s choice. Finally, a ground out to Beach over at second base allowed Oak Hall to secure their third out. Oak Hall had managed to keep NFC off the board. They now led 1-0 at the end of the first inning.

Kuzmicki Knocks In Another Timely Hit

Now in the top of the second inning, Oak Hall hoped to add on to their lead by any means necessary. After an early ground out, they managed to land two runners on base. Aaron Akins made it to first on a walk. In the ensuing at-bat, NFC’s second baseman made an arid throw that allowed Beach to safely make it on base as well. Akins and Beach each advanced a base on a passed ball.

Aaron Akins tosses his bat over to the Oak Hall dugout after being walked in the second inning.

However, after a line out to right field in the subsequent at-bat, it appeared Oak Hall’s runners were in danger of being stranded on base. With two runners in scoring position and two outs on the board, Oak Hall needed a big-time play to score some more runs. Luckily, their next man up to bat has been no stranger to making big plays this year.

Jack Kuzmicki entered the batter’s box hoping to provide another spark for Oak Hall’s offense. He noted how the pitchers he faced on Wednesday reminded him of some players he has faced in his years playing travel baseball. Kuzmicki credited that familiarity with his ability to keep up with a talented NFC bullpen.

“Over the summer, I’ve been in… big tournaments facing guys that throw hard,” Kuzmicki said. “To me, [those hits] were kind of second nature.”

After seeing just two pitches, Kuzmicki belted a ground ball towards NFC’s shortstop. As Akins hustled towards home plate, the shortstop corralled the ball and attempted to make the throw over to first base. His efforts proved to be futile, as Kuzmicki landed on first with ease. Meanwhile, Akins had already scored, and Oak Hall had taken a 2-0 lead.

NFC Starts To Fight Their Way Back

While Oak Hall’s offensive slowed down after the second inning, their defense managed to hold off NFC’s offense for a while longer. Freeman made a dazzling grab in the bottom of the second inning that even wowed the NFC crowd. With a man on first and second, NFC’s Aiden Butler knocked in a bunt in an attempt to advance those runners. However, before the ball could land fair, Freeman made a diving grab to snag the out. Oak Hall finished off the second inning with a double play to hold on to their lead.

Despite NFC’s lineup of elite batters, Freeman remained focused on the task at hand throughout the game. He reaffirmed his confidence in both himself and his teammates in a post-game interview.

“I wasn’t too concerned about any of their hitters… I felt like I could [get] them out,” Freeman said. “Our defense was on point for a lot of the game.”

Troy Freeman pitches to a North Florida Christian batter in Wednesday’s game; the play resulted in a fielder’s choice.

Oak Hall continued their reign of defensive dominance with three straight outs in the bottom of the third inning. However, Oak Hall’s grip started to loosen in the fourth inning. After another empty-handed offensive inning, they hoped to keep NFC off the board. That proved to be a difficult task, with an NFC runner making it over to third base in the first at-bat of the inning. An arid throw to first base from Oak Hall allowed NFC to immediately land a man in scoring position.

After Oak Hall walked the subsequent batter, NFC’s runner on third scored on a sacrifice fly. The bleeding did not stop there for Oak Hall’s defense. After another NFC batter knocked in a single, Oak Hall allowed two runs to score on a deep line drive into right field. Kuzmicki snagged a ground out to finish off the inning, but NFC had already done their job. Oak Hall now trailed 3-2 after four innings.

A Pair of NFC Bombs In The Fifth Inning Sinks Oak Hall

Things only got uglier for Oak Hall after the fourth inning. While the team picked up a couple of hits in the fifth inning, they could not capitalize on them. Ruth snagged a single on a well-hit bunt, but NFC’s pitcher managed to pick him off at first base.

Ethan Szlachetka watches a pitch cross the plate in the middle innings of the game.

Meanwhile, Szlachetka nailed a ground ball past first base to secure a single as well. However, he was subsequently stranded on first after NFC picked up two strikeouts to end the inning.

With NFC now picking up some steam, Oak Hall needed to find a way to keep them from doing any more damage. After Freeman gave up a walk and a pair of hits (the latter hit drove in another run), Oak Hall elected to take him off the mound. Following some confusion in Oak Hall’s dugout about the defensive substitutions, Ezzell grabbed his gear and took the mound.

With the count already sitting at 1-0, NFC’s Joseph Ervin knew he had a chance to deal a serious blow to Oak Hall. Ezzell threw a pair of balls in his first two pitches. Hoping to avoid a walk, he threw his next pitch right down the middle. Ervin swung and swung hard. The ball trailed into left field with plenty of power. It traveled further, and further until it cleared the fence. For the first time in the 2022 season, the Oak Hall Eagles had surrendered a home run.

After NFC landed two more runners on base via a single and an error from Oak Hall, Ezzell returned to first base. Kuzmicki proceeded to take the mound in his place. His first plate appearance went well, as he threw Oak Hall’s strikeout on the day. Nevertheless, NFC remained undeterred. If anything, the strikeout motivated their next batter, Ashton Gainer, to avenge his teammate.

Oak Hall Head Coach Kevin Maris meets with Troy Freeman and Brody Beaupre on the mound during the fifth inning.

Whether that was his goal or not, he immediately succeeded in achieving it. Gainer belted the ball into deep left field once again. This time, it was pretty clear from the get-go that the ball was a goner. All of a sudden, Oak Hall now trailed 10-2. They proceeded to pick up two quick outs to finish off the inning, but the wind had already been knocked out of their sails.

The Final Moments Of Oak Hall’s 2022 Season

While Oak Hall’s chances of taking home the win had drastically diminished, the team gave it their all up until the final out. The team almost managed to put some runs on the board in the sixth inning. Jackson Beach and Kuzmicki each knocked in a single, while Harrison Beach was walked. However, Oak Hall already had two outs on the board. As a result, all three runners were stranded on the bases following a line out to finish the inning.

As Oak Hall prepared to take the field in the bottom of the sixth inning, the coaching staff elected to put Szlachetka on the mound to kick things off. Despite picking up a line out early on in the inning, NFC picked up a pair of walks and a single in their next three plate appearances. They also managed to score on an error from Oak Hall. Eventually, NFC knocked in a sacrifice ground ball to drive in their final run of the game. Now having secured a 12-2 lead, NFC clinched the victory via a mercy rule.

Following the game, Oak Hall Head Coach Kevin Maris shared his thoughts on the outcome of the game. While he was disappointed with the final result, he was proud of the effort that his team put forth. He also acknowledged how North Florida Christian has proved itself as one of the toughest opponents the team has faced in recent memory.

“We were focused on doing what we needed to do. I thought Troy pitched a solid game, for the most part. I don’t think we got an equal amount of calls that we could’ve gotten at times, but that’s a part of baseball,” Maris said. “This is an outstanding ball club, they have a good program year in and year out… We let a couple of innings get away from us, and next thing you know, we didn’t get it done.”

Reflecting On A Stellar Season And Looking To The Future

The Oak Hall Eagles finish off the 2022 season with a 14-4 record, clinching their best single-season record in over 15 years.

Now that the 2022 spring season has come to a close, the Oak Hall baseball team has plenty to be proud of. Despite an unfortunate finish, the squad had a fantastic year, finishing with a 13-2 record in the regular season. Additionally, Kuzmicki was named the Class 2A Player of the Year by the Florida Athletic Coaches Association. The FACA also named Maris the Class 2A Coach of the Year.

With all of the success the team saw this season, their future looks immensely bright. One key factor that will likely allow the team to experience even more success next year is their room for growth. The team has no seniors on its roster, meaning that every player from this year’s squad will be eligible to return next season. The team hopes to capitalize on this opportunity for another breakout season with plenty of hard work this offseason. But for now, they will look back on this season as one for the history books at Oak Hall.

“This year, we were pretty good,” Kuzmicki said. “But next year, we’ll be older, stronger, bigger and faster. It’ll be something you’ve never seen before.”

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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