For much of the district semifinals on Tuesday night, it looked as if the game was in the hands of Venice starting pitcher Orion Kerkering.
The senior right-hander struck out nine Bobcats and kept North Port off-balance all throughout his 5 2/3 innings as Venice clung to a one-run lead.
However, the Indians would eventually rally — ignited by a two-run single by Zac Calhoon — to bury the Bobcats in a 7-0 win at Venice High School.
Zac Calhoon is nothing but clutch. The outfielder rips a two-run single to right-center field to give the Indians some insurance runs — knocking Bobcats pitcher Brandon Long out of the game. Bot 5: Venice 3, North Port 0 pic.twitter.com/w37gnPOAYL— Vinnie Portell (@VJPortell) May 8, 2019
“Kerkering really manned up for us tonight,” Venice coach Craig Faulkner said. “He really pitched good the whole game. There were very few times when we’re like, ‘Hey, we’re a little nervous. What’s he doing?’ He commanded the whole game.
“Even if we only scored one run, he would have won that game for us, which is nice. He’s the kind of pitcher we need.”
For the first hour-and-a-half of the district semifinals, it looked as if the Indians would need just that from Kerkering — scoring one run on an RBI sacrifice fly by Aidan Corn in the first inning, and no runs for the ensuing three innings.
Kerkering allowed just two hits — both singles — and walked one batter as he picked apart the Bobcats lineup.
Orion Kerkering is absolutely dealing — and Venice needs it right now. The senior strikes out the side to bring his K total to 9 on the night as he continues to shut out North Port Bot 5: Venice 1, North Port 0 pic.twitter.com/qypSzRF1Hl— Vinnie Portell (@VJPortell) May 8, 2019
However, North Port starting pitcher Brandon Long proved to be just as effective for a while, holding Venice to one run on four hits through the first four innings.
Eventually, the Indians bats woke up in the fifth.
Leadoff singles by Mac Guscette and Michael Robertson followed by a walk from Kevin Dubrule put Venice in prime position to blow the game open.
Two batters later, Calhoon sent a 2-2 pitch on a rope to right-center field to add some insurance runs and effectively end the game.
“I was struggling with the bat in my first couple of ABs, and I was just focusing on doing something for the team and getting the job done,” Calhoon said. “I was battling, and I had a little twitch in my swing and it wasn’t going right. But I finally made the adjustment and came through for my teammates.
“It felt really good. I’ve always wanted these moments, to rip the game open for my team.”
After Calhoon broke the game open, Chason Rockymore added on with an RBI single before another run scored on the throw to first base after a dropped third strike.
Venice wasn’t done there.
The very next inning, the Indians added two more runs on an RBI single from Robertson and a double steal of second and home — putting them up seven runs with just three more outs to get.
On in relief of Kerkering, junior pitcher Jacob Faulkner set the side down in order to secure the Indians first playoff victory and guarantee them a spot in the district championship.
Venice will play for the district title at home on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. against Charlotte High.
“We weren’t nervous,” Calhoon said of leading 1-0 for four-plus innings. “Once in a while we come out flat and don’t hit the ball. But we knew our bats would come around, and eventually we did.”