Jack Kuzmicki celebrating at home plate.
Jack Kuzmicki (center) had a career day to help the Oak Hall Eagles win their home opener on Friday.

Jack Kuzmicki Powers Oak Hall To Victory Over Gainesville

When the Sun had set on Friday afternoon, Jack Kuzmicki wore a big smile in the Oak Hall dugout. He had just put together the game of his life. His squad had just secured a comeback victory in their home debut. And he had just been accepted into his dream school, the University of Florida. Not a bad day at all.

The rest of the Oak Hall Eagles also had a solid evening as well, taking home an 8-7 victory over the Gainesville Hurricanes in six innings. Kuzmicki led the way in his self-proclaimed “best game ever.” He went 3-for-3 at the plate, knocking out five RBIs and a home run in the process. He also notched a win on the mound after allowing no hits or runs in the game’s final 1.1 innings.

Starting pitcher Troy Freeman had a fantastic debut in his first appearance of the season. In 3.2 innings pitched, he only allowed four hits and one run while racking up three strikeouts.

Jackson Beach gave the Eagles some extra offensive firepower as well. Beach went 2-for-2 at the plate while picking up two walks and scoring three runs.

Oak Hall Comes Out Firing Early

Gainesville started off strong in the top of the first inning. After grounding out in their first plate appearance, the Hurricanes swiftly loaded the bases with a walk and a pair of base hits. They proceeded to score their first run off of a bases-loaded walk. However, Freeman managed to keep his cool despite the jam he faced.

“I just stayed calm and played smart,” Freeman said. “I just treat [every] batter like nobody is ever on. It helps me keep under control.”

Freeman secured a strikeout and a fly out in the subsequent two at-bats to strand Gainesville’s remaining three runners on base. The Eagles then responded with a pair of walks and a pair of sacrifice fly balls to reclaim the lead by the end of the inning.

Despite Freeman striking out the leadoff batter in the second inning, the Hurricanes once again loaded up the bases. This time, however, the Eagles shut them down before they could even begin. Emory Ezzell snagged a line out and immediately flipped it to Beach on second base, giving the Eagles their first double play on the year. And a conveniently timed one, at that.

By inning #3, Freeman had Gainesville’s offense locked down. He sat down the first two batters he faced before surrendering a single; he then secured a fly out on the first pitch he threw in the ensuing at-bat.

Kuzmicki Goes Yard In The Third

In the bottom of the third, the Eagles led off with a fly out before Beach landed on first with a ground ball single. Kuzmicki then entered the batter’s box, looking to facilitate some action for Oak Hall.

First pitch comes in, and Kuzmicki lets it fly right past him. Figures he can find a better one later in the count. Second pitch, he pops out a foul ball behind home plate. Now he trails early on in the count. But Kuzmicki does not even break a sweat.

“My whole life, lefty curveballs have always been my [favorite] pitch,” Kuzmicki said. “I’m in there, 0-2 count, one out, and I’m like, ‘He’s probably going to throw a curveball.’ Sure enough, he threw that backfoot curveball, my favorite pitch in the world, and I just got my hands on it, stayed through it and hit a clean line drive out. I didn’t think it was out, I thought it hit the wall, so I was booking it. But then someone yelled out ‘Home run!’, and then it was just a flood of emotions.”

The ball had flown over the left field wall. After three inside-the-park home runs last season, Kuzmicki had finally gotten one over the fence. He also had extended Oak Hall’s lead to 4-1.

Gainesville Storms Back In Inning #5

The fourth inning came and went quietly for both squads. Freeman secured two outs in the top of the inning before Head Coach Kevin Maris pulled him; Freeman had already surpassed 70 pitches on the day.

Ethan Szlachetka took his place on the mound and ended the inning with a ground out. However, the Hurricanes swiftly sat down the Eagles’ next three batters in the bottom of the fourth.

Oak Hall’s momentum withered when they took back to the field in the top of the fifth. Gainesville rallied up three singles and two walks in their first five plate appearances in the inning. They managed to narrow the deficit to 4-3 during that span.

Despite Szlachetka managing to throw out a runner at home on a fielder’s choice, he was moved to first base and replaced by Gavin Jones after a wild pitch that allowed the Hurricanes to tie things up. Gainesville went on to score on an error from Oak Hall’s outfield, a passed ball and a bases-loaded hit by pitch.

Maris elected to replace Jones on the mound with Kuzmicki after the HBP. He immediately ended the inning with a fly out to left field, but Gainesville had already made their mark. They entered the top of the inning down three and exited it up three.

To make matters worse, Oak Hall now had a new opponent: time. As the sun began to set, the umpires had begun considering when to call it a game due to the field not having lights. With the Eagles now trailing, they had to find a way to put together a comeback. And fast.

Kuzmicki and Szlachetka Beat The Clock

Oak Hall continued stumbling in the bottom of the fifth, with their first two plate appearances resulting in an early pair of outs. Beach then managed to knock a hard ground ball into right field to make it onto first base. Kuzmicki then stepped back to the plate, as determined as ever. On just the second pitch he saw, he blasted out a powerful double into center field to bring Beach home.

Kuzmicki made it over to third base following a single from Jack Steen, but he was subsequently stranded there after a strikeout. He then rushed back onto the mound as the Sun continued creeping down past the trees in the outfield.

Kuzmicki wasted no time in the top of the sixth. The first batter he sees pops out to Beach. The second batter, line out to Ezzell. The third batter, strikeout looking. He sat the Hurricanes down 1-2-3, and the Eagles had another chance at the plate.

Neil Ruth led off the bottom of the sixth with a single into left field. After a ground out from Ezzell, Brody Beaupre landed on first following an error from the Hurricanes infield. Taylor Brown entered the game as a courtesy runner for Beaupre. Following a passed ball, Ruth scored and Brown made it to third.

Szlachetka now had a chance to tie the game back up. With the count at 2-1, he belted a single into center field, allowing Brown to score. He then stole second and third base in the following at-bat, giving the Eagles a prime opportunity to reclaim the lead.

However, another Oak Hall strikeout put a damper on their takeover chances. Beach was then walked, giving the Eagles runners on first and third with two outs. Next to bat: Jack Kuzmicki.

This time, he did not pull any punches. On the first pitch he saw, Kuzmicki knocked a double into deep left field. Szlachetka crossed home plate, and the Eagles had finally retaken the lead.

The Sun Sets On The Hurricanes

At the end of the sixth inning, the clock read 6:30 p.m. The sun had officially set five minutes earlier. With remaining daylight dwindling, the umpires briefly conferred on the field before calling the game. The Eagles had pulled out another thrilling victory in just their second game of the season.

Coach Maris could not have been more proud of his squad for pulling out another resilient win. While he believes the squad still has plenty of room for improvement, he also noted how much better they looked on Friday compared to their season opener. Maris also agreed with the umpires’ decision to call the game prior to the seventh inning.

“We let them play their top half [of the sixth], and there was still plenty of light to play our bottom half,” Maris said. “But to start a whole other inning, that probably wasn’t going to happen. That would take too long… They made the right call.”

After the game, the team was working on setting up their weekend practices. Coach Maris told the guys to show up at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. To his amusement, the players countered by asking if they could come in an hour early instead. While the suggestion got some laughs, it also shows the character of this Eagles team. No matter how talented they are or how many wins they rack up, they always want to get better. By any means necessary.

Oak Hall will return to Roger Maris Field on March 1 at 4:15 p.m., when they will host the Baldwin Indians.

About Jack Meyer

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

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