When opposing teams see Venice starting pitcher Orion Kerkering take the mound, they know that they’re in for a long night.
On Tuesday night against Riverview, Kerkering pitched just the first two innings for the Indians, but it didn’t matter as Danny Rodriguez, Glenn Simes, Sam Ottman and Hunter Szewczyk helped to combine for a three-hitter in a 5-2 Venice win at Suncoast Technical College.
“It’s a tough call in the cold. I thought they did well,” Venice coach Craig Faulkner said of Simes, Ottman and Szewczyk debuting on Tuesday. “I thought they were effectively wild, all of them. They were struggling with some of their pitches, but first time out you’re gonna be nervous. But they all competed and did a good job.”
Along with it being the season debut for Ottman (a senior) and Szewczyk (a junior), Tuesday night also marked the first time either pitcher took the mound for Venice (3-0).
Though they were a bit shaky at times — with Ottman starting out with six straight balls and Szewczyk allowing a double to deep right field — each reliever left the game with the lead intact.
“At first, it didn’t go as planned, but after that I kind of settled down, talked to my catcher and got comfortable,” said Ottman, who walked the first batter but didn’t allow any hits.”
When Ottman was finished with the sixth — and Venice leading 5-2 — Szewczyk was called upon to close the game out in the seventh.
Aside from a double, the junior escaped the inning with three quick outs and the save.
“It felt pretty good because the offense did their job and gave me a cushion so I could just go out there and throw strikes,” he said.
Ottman and Szewczyk’s successful outings were made possible in large part by a four-run third inning that gave Venice the lead for good.
With both sides hitless through the first two innings, the Indians took advantage of three walks by Rams starter Cade Nelson — as two hits and a groundout were all it took to give Venice a quick 4-0 lead.
Though Rodriguez allowed a run when Rams hitter Tyler Russin crushed a homer over the right field wall, that’s about the only offense Riverview could muster.
Venice shortstop Kevin Dubrule answered Russin’s homer with an RBI infield single the next inning, and the Indians turned to their trio of relievers to protect the four-run lead.
Though Ottman did surrender a run as an error on a pop up behind first base allowed a run to score.
However, Simes, Ottman and Szewczyk showed they have what it takes to be a part of the Venice pitching staff — no small feat for a team looking to repeat as state champions.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Ottman said of being on the Indians pitching staff. “The expectations are really high, which keeps me at a really high level.
“I want to win a state championship. I’ve worked all four years with the team in the fall and the past two years on JV. I want to go out with a win.”
All three relievers will have their roles to play as Venice begins its march back toward the playoffs. That path will begin to take shape this Friday as Venice hosts Fort Myers — a tough district opponent.
“It’s a long wait from last week since (Kerkering and Rodriguez) last pitched, so we wanted to give them almost a bullpen day, and hopefully not go over 30 pitches,” Faulkner said. “So we can use both of those guys for the district game.
“For us, Friday is the biggest game of the year, so we want to make sure everyone is ready to throw.”