The Venice baseball team knew that if it could knock out Riverdale starting pitcher Carson Palmquist early enough in the game, then the Indians would be in a good spot to advance to the regional semifinals.
Venice (22-6, 6-0) did just that with a big third inning, as left fielder Zac Calhoon ripped a two-run single to centerfield with two outs to give the Indians a 3-0 lead.
Palmquist’s night was done after one more inning, and the Indians cruised to a 5-0 win at Venice High School in the regional quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
“Their pitcher was a decent pitcher, but when our bats are on, nothing can stop us,” Calhoon said. “I would have just had a regular old single if my teammates didn’t get on base.”
Backed by three early runs, Venice countered with its own ace in Orion Kerkering.
The senior right-hander proved he was up for the moment, throwing a complete game shutout in which he allowed three hits (all singles) and struck out 13.
Kerkering began the game in rhythm — striking out seven of the first nine batters he faced.
He allowed just one hit — a bloop single — through the first six innings, and kept the Raiders from making much solid contact all night long.
“Kerkering was really on tonight,” Venice coach Craig Faulkner said. “He had all his pitches going for him. He wasn’t too pumped up, either. He threw his pitches where he wanted them to go.
“He dominated tonight, and he can do that.”
Venice’s big third inning began with a single from Marek Houston, and then an infield single by Bradley Miller.
Following a well-placed sacrifice bunt from Mac Guscette, Mike Robertson walked to load the bases before Kevin Dubrule found an opening in right field for an RBI single.
Two batters later, Calhoon came to the plate and put Venice ahead for good.
“It really makes it worth it,” Calhoon said of the work he puts in. “All the tees you hit off of, all the batting practice you take, all the morning workouts. Once you get a big hit like that, it feels pretty special.”
With Kerkering under his allotted pitch count, the senior worked quickly and efficiently with his lead.
Once Palmquist was out of the game in the fifth, Venice continued to pile on to its lead.
Two hit batters and a single loaded the bases with one out, and Calhoon made it 4-0 with a sacrifice fly to centerfield. The Indians wouldn’t get anything else that inning, but it wouldn’t matter much.
Again in the sixth, the Indians strung together a short rally as three straight hits led to another run.
Though Riverdale did put two on with back-to-back singles with two outs in the seventh, the last hitter of the game was thrown out trying to stretch his single to a double — sealing the win for Venice.
Next up for the Indians is a road game at Gulf Coast High (Naples) in the regional semifinals on Saturday at 7 p.m.
“It’s a difficult thing because we have graduation on Friday night,” Faulkner said. “The pitchers have to throw on Friday even though they’re graduating.
“There’s a lot of distractions this time of the year, but that’s where we have to step up as coaches and make sure they’re focused and ready to play on Saturday.”