Oak Hall celebrating
The Oak Hall Eagles emerge from their dugout and swarm Neil Ruth at third base after his walk-off hit clinched their Regional Quarterfinals victory.

Oak Hall Advances To Regional Semifinals On Walk-Off From Neil Ruth

The Oak Hall Eagles have endured their fair share of close games this year. But their postseason matchup with the Eagle’s View Warriors on Tuesday afternoon may have been their tightest contest to date. Despite trailing for the majority of the afternoon, Oak Hall still found a way to come out on top.

Neil Ruth and Jack Kuzmicki turned in a pair of fantastic performances to lift the Eagles to a 6-5 win. Ruth started off the day going 2-for-3 at the plate with a double and a triple. He eventually secured the game-winning hit in the final inning on a line drive into center field.

Meanwhile, the Warriors did everything in their power to prevent Kuzmicki from getting opportunities at the plate. After he knocked out an RBI single in the first inning, Kuzmicki was walked in his three subsequent at-bats. The latter two walks were intentional.

Nevertheless, Kuzmicki still found a way to make his mark on Tuesday’s game. Oak Hall starting pitcher Troy Freeman exited the game early after surrendering eight hits and five runs (three earned) in 2.1 innings. Kuzmicki then replaced him on the mound and dominated the Warriors.

Kuzmicki pitched for 4.1 innings, only allowing two hits, one walk and zero runs. He also tallied up seven strikeouts and retired the last nine batters he faced in the final three innings.

Familiar Foes Face Off Again

Tuesday’s game marked the third matchup between the Eagles and Warriors this season. Oak Hall took home an 11-0 run-rule victory in round one. Eagle’s View put up more of a fight in game two, but Oak Hall still came away with a 13-8 win. Neither side paid much attention to these prior matchups, however. All that mattered now was their final meeting at Roger Maris Field.

Wild pitch for Oak Hall
Oak Hall scored their first run of the game on a wild pitch in the bottom of the first inning.

The Warriors made it clear from the get-go that they were out for blood. Hunter Roseplier and Mac Johnson led off with a pair of singles for Eagle’s View. Roseplier went on to score on an RBI double from Drew Hand, while Johnson was caught stealing at home on a passed ball.

In the bottom of the inning, the Eagles saw their first three batters all get walked. The Warriors caught Jackson Beach stealing at second base, but Harrison Beach managed to successfully steal third base later in the inning. He eventually made it home on a wild pitch to even up the score at 1-1.

Oak Hall Struggles To Stay Alive

Eagle’s View then went on to score two more runs on back-to-back Oak Hall errors. Brenden Brunson scored on an error by Freeman at home plate. One at-bat later, Gabriel Nuckols scored following an arid throw to first baseman Gavin Jones. Ruth responded for Oak Hall with an RBI triple to drive home pinch runner Aaron Akins.

“I was just trying to start something up each inning,” Ruth said. “If we would have lost, that would have been my last game, and I wasn’t about to let that happen.”

While Ruth demonstrated plenty of fight in the batter’s box, the rest of the lineup struggled to get anything going. Oak Hall still found themselves trailing 3-2 after two innings.

The Warriors started out the third inning with another pair of leadoff singles. Both of these hits eventually turned into runs, with Brunson cracking a line drive into left field to bring both runners home. Mason Williams, the latter runner on the play, was called safe at home plate on a controversial obstruction call that generated plenty of jeers from the Oak Hall crowd.

Williams took his time getting up after the play, and subsequently exited the game due to an apparent head injury. Nevertheless, he had already made his mark and given his team a 5-2 lead. Kuzmicki went on to replace Freeman on the mound with two outs on the board. He quickly struck out the first batter he saw to retire the Warriors without any more drama.

Chipping Away At Eagle’s View

With their deficit only growing larger, the Eagles needed to put together a response at the plate, and fast. Harrison Beach delivered with a leadoff double into center field to fire up the Oak Hall crowd. Kuzmicki then cracked a line drive single into left field to bring Beach home.

Jack Kuzmicki at the plate for Oak Hall
Despite his limited opportunities at the plate, Jack Kuzmicki still played a major role in Oak Hall’s Regional Quarterfinals victory over Eagle’s View.

Following a single from Gavin Jones and a hit-by-pitch on Jack Steen, the Eagles managed to load the bases with two outs on the board. Brody Beaupre went on to survive a nine-pitch at-bat for a bases-loaded walk to score another run for Oak Hall. The remaining three runners ended up stranded on the basepaths, and the Warriors managed to hold on to a 5-4 lead at the end of the third inning.

While the Eagles still faced an uphill battle entering the fourth inning, they had begun to show signs of life. Brett Corbitt led off with a double for the Warriors, while Roseplier landed on first via a hit-by-pitch. However, Kuzmicki responded by striking out the next batter and forcing a double play at second base to give Eagle’s View their first scoreless outing of the day.

Ruth then led off with a double in the bottom of the inning to put the tying run in scoring position. Eagle’s View struck out the next two batters, giving Kuzmicki a chance for a two-out RBI knock. However, that was not meant to be. The Warriors elected to intentionally walk Kuzmicki, much to the frustration of the Oak Hall spectators. They eventually retired the Eagles on a strikeout to keep their 5-4 lead.

“It kind of feels good to know that other team is scared of me and that they want nothing to do with me,” Kuzmicki said. “It would have been nice to get to swing it a few more times, but that’s how the coin was flipped.”

Kuzmicki Keeps Oak Hall In Contention

While the Warriors kept Kuzmicki contained in the batter’s box, they could not do anything to slow him down on the mound. After walking Hand in the top of the fifth inning, he struck out three consecutive Eagle’s View batters to once again keep them off the board. Following another quiet offensive outing for Oak Hall in the bottom of the fifth, Kuzmicki once again sat the Warriors down 1-2-3 in the top of the sixth.

In spite of his team’s deficit, Kuzmicki looked as confident as ever on the mound. He gave the team a much-needed energy boost with his barrage of strikeouts and ensuing celebrations to keep Oak Hall’s spirits up. Kuzmicki’s go-to celebration? Putting “the sword” away on every batter he sat down on strikes.

“I was feeling like a menace out there,” Kuzmicki said. “[I] definitely felt more dominant… It feels good when the other coach is getting upset that you keep ‘swording’ their players.”

In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Eagles had another opportunity to tie the game back up. Jackson Beach led off with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Once again, the Warriors elected to intentionally walk Kuzmicki with a runner in scoring position. And once again, the decision paid off, as the following two batters popped out to the Eagle’s View infield to strand the runs.

Ruth Pulls Through For The Walk-Off

The Eagles were now backed into a corner. Kuzmicki pitched another nearly flawless inning, with a fly out to left field and two more strikeouts to keep the Warriors in check. But now, Oak Hall needed more than just a strong performance on the mound. They needed a hero to rise up on the bats, or their season would be over.

Eagle’s View snagged a quick out number one on a pop out to shortstop. Oak Hall then managed to get a pair of runners on base via walks from Aaron Akins and Beaupre. Now up to bat for the Eagles: Neil Ruth. A dream scenario for Oak Hall, and a nightmare one for Eagle’s View.

Ruth lets the first pitch fly by him for strike one. He got caught swinging on the next pitch for strike two. The crowd had now gone completely silent. The next pitch goes for a ball one. Ruth knows he needs to make something happen here. With the count at 1-2, Ruth decides that it is showtime.

He proceeds to crack a hard-hit line drive into deep center field. The Eagle’s View center fielder gives it chase and nearly gets to it in the nick of time. But the ball bounces off his glove, and he cannot make the grab. The ball lands fair, and both runners for the Eagles make a mad dash for home. As Ruth rounds the corner at second, both runs cross the plate. Game over. Neil Ruth officially walks it off for the win.

“It felt good, I felt like ‘the main guy’ for a second,” Ruth said. “But as good as it felt, I’m not getting caught up in it, because we have a game on Friday to win.”

Up Next For Oak Hall

The Oak Hall Eagles will now turn their attention to their Regional Semifinals matchup with the North Florida Christian Eagles. These two squads are no strangers to each other, as North Florida Christian ended Oak Hall’s 2022 season in last year’s Regional Quarterfinals.

However, Oak Hall feels much more confident this time around. With a newly revamped squad that features more talent, more experience and more ambition, the Eagles are ready to get their revenge.

“We’re a year more mature, and these guys are three years under my belt now,” Oak Hall Head Coach Kevin Maris said. “We were young pups up there last year… But we’ve shown we can play with the best of them all year long, and I look forward to the challenge. It should be a good game.”

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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