Some of you may remember my ‘Know the Foe’ series from the fall, in which I detailed each week’s opponent for the Venice football team.
While the nature of other sports doesn’t allow me the time to break down each and every opponent for the other teams on campus, playoffs are a special occasion.
For as long as the Venice baseball team stays alive throughout the FHSAA State Playoff Series, I’ll break down each of the Indians’ upcoming foes.
Tonight, it’s do-or-die for Venice as it opens the regional playoffs with a home game against Riverdale High.
Being that I primarily only cover the Indians, I called in some help from Bryan Cooney of The News Press, who has watched the Raiders several times this season.
Using his expertise and some research through MaxPreps and other online articles, I think I have a pretty good feel of what to expect from Riverdale.
Pitching is their strengthIt’s true that the Indians have one of the most formidable 1-2 punches in the state with starting pitchers Orion Kerkering and Danny Rodriguez, but the Raiders starters might be just as good.
Led by ace Carson Palmquist, who is almost certain to start tonight’s game, and backed up by Nelson Smith (1.76 ERA), Riverdale has allowed 3.8 runs per game on its way to a 15-11 record.
Palmquist, who is a University of Miami commit, will be the Indians’ primary concern. He last pitched on May 8 in a 10-2 win over South Fort Myers in the district semifinals, and is well rested after taking over a week off.
Let’s start with the stats.
The 6-foot-4 left-hander has gone 7-1 with a 0.76 ERA in 10 appearances this season and has allowed just 11 hits in 56 2/3 innings. He’s also struck out 61% of the batters he’s faced this season (103 Ks to 20 walks) and several of the 11 hits he’s allowed have been bunt singles.
Cooney compared Palmquist to what Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale looked like in high school, but said he might even be a bit more polished than Sale was at that age.
Using a low arm slot from the left side — just like Sale — Palmquist’s fastball sits between 86-90 mph and he also throws a slider, changeup and curve ball. According to Cooney, the curve is Palmquist’s best pitch and one that he often goes to when he gets ahead in the count.
Though the Raiders don’t have any relievers whose stats stand out, Smith could be called upon from the bullpen if he is available after Friday’s 4-1 District Championship loss to Gulf Coast.
Bats can be suspectThe Raiders are loaded at starting pitcher, but that doesn’t mean much if their bats can’t generate runs.
The team has a respectable .279 batting average, but not much pop — registering just 36 extra base hits across 799 plate appearances this season.
To make up for their lack of power, the Raiders have gotten creative to get their runs across. Along with averaging over four walks per game, they have also averaged over three steals per game. When the Raiders get baserunners, they make them count.
Freshman catcher Carson Sekula may be the best bat the team has — hitting .408 out of the three hole for the Raiders this year. Protecting Sekula in the order are sophomore Richard Belcher (.343 average with 23 runs scored) and Thomas Lemmerman (.318 average with team-high 19 RBIs).
Palmquist also happens to be one of the Raiders best hitters, too.
The senior pitcher has turned a team-high 83 plate appearances into a .328 average with six extra base hits and 15 RBI.
However, while the bats have beaten up on lesser teams, they’ve struggled to be consistent against top competition, according to Cooney.
Riverdale has lost to district rival Gulf Coast twice (1-0 and 4-1) and has been held to three runs or less in 11 of its 26 games this year.
Breaking out of that habit won’t get any easier for Riverdale with Kerkering on the mound for Venice.
PredictionVenice 3 — Riverdale 1