By Jeff Odom
Laker/Lutz News Correspondent
Steinbrenner pitcher Chris Williams walked off the mound with a sense of closure.
The senior (6-0, 1.39 ERA), who started his high school career along with four of his baseball teammates at Sickles in 2008, allowed two hits, struck out six and walked one batter for his second straight complete game shutout, this time at George M. Steinbrenner Field on April 13. On the other end of that 8-0 win — the Gryphons.
It was the first meeting between the programs. Williams said the feeling of playing on a big league field against his former squad was priceless.
“It was pretty fun man,” Williams said. “It was just something different, and I hope we can do it again. This team has been together for awhile and it’s a great bunch of guys who started at (Sickles), but this team has a great chance to get to states. We’re a family.”
Warriors baseball coach John Crumbley said Williams’ performance was enough to give his squad a chance to win.
“I don’t think it was the best game he’s pitched in the last three or four games,” Crumbley said. “His curveball wasn’t where it’s been in other games, but his fastball has been live, his change-up has been outstanding and he gives us a chance even when we’re not swinging it.”
Steinbrenner (15-6) began the offensive attack in the second inning, when Sickles (9-11) pitcher Corey Johnson walked Gerald Bautista to open the frame. After Sammy May’s base hit moved him to third base, a wild pitch allowed Bautista to take home for the early lead.
Johnson continued to walk himself into trouble in the fourth, allowing a base on balls to Cole Gordon to lead off the inning. May delivered again with an RBI double down the third base line.
Steinbrenner’s bats remained hot, adding two runs in the fifth and sending eight batters to the plate in the sixth inning. Dakota Carter reached on a single to center field and Kevin Merrell was hit by a pitch, followed by Christian Diaz’s RBI double to left field to extend the lead to 6-0.
Chase Turner followed through with a double of his own, scoring Merrell and Diaz to put the game out of reach.
“It was a great feeling,” Diaz said. “It’s always fun beating the person that kind of started you off, and I wanted to come out here and make (Sickles coach Bob Pagano) really regret losing me.”
Crumbley, who was Jesuit’s coach during state titles won at Steinbrenner Field in 1994, 1997 and 2000, said the win on the Tampa Yankees’ diamond ranks high on his list of accomplishments because it was a learning experience for his players. He added it helps them judge if they can complete their journey for a championship in Port St. Lucie, also a professional baseball stadium.
“This is great because our kids just realize if we work hard and we get to a final four, then this is the kind of venue that we’ll be in,” Crumbley said. “That’s what the whole purpose of this was.”
Crumbley hopes the two teams can return to the site in the future.
“They started hosting high school games three years ago and (Tampa Catholic) and Jesuit were the participants the first two years, and when they didn’t want to come again I jumped at the opportunity,” Crumbley said. “This happened to be the game that worked for us.”
Steinbrenner travels to Robinson on April 17 before hosting Plant in its regular season finale on April 20. Both games start at 7 p.m.
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