Diamond Notes: DJ’s Daily Journal

By: DJ Rhodes- March 15-21, 2009

The First Baptist High School Hurricane baseball team has taken a week-long trip to Viera, FL to participate in the Westminster Sunshine Classic. Head coach DJ Rhodes is keeping a daily journal of the trip and has shared his entries with DP readers:

-Friday, 3/20/09-

After almost three hours of sleep, it was time for a little breakfast then off to the field for our third game of pool play. The opponent was Cambridge Christian from Tampa, Florida. Finally, a school of about two hundred high school students, about the same as us! They came into the game 2-0 in pool play and we knew we had a fight on our hands. We also knew the winner was probably going to end up in the championship game vs. the other pool’s #1 seed, Charlotte Christian.

On the mound for the Canes was sophomore Marlin Morris. He was 81-83 from the left side and worked his changeup in as he only allowed the Lancers one hit through four innings. Offensively, First Baptist scratched a run in the second and fourth innings and carried a 2-0 lead into the fifth inning. Morris though has been battling a slight bit of tendonitis in his elbow since January and the season still has long to go, so enter senior
Tyler Graves, the right-hand sidearm slinger, to change up things for the Cambridge hitters. Unfortunately, he did not have his control this day and walked two before the Lancer’s Trent Tagliarini, a Quincy University (Div. II) signee, roped a two-run double off the left center field wall.

To shut their opponent down, First Baptist brought in center fielder Josh Hickman to finish the game. He did not disappoint. He struck out five batters through the seventh inning, but the score was still 2-2. Free baseball for those in the stands, and now the Canes didn’t really care about their lack of sleep. After another K for Hickman in the 8th, the Lancers were issued a walk, advanced on a wild pitch, then on a 3-2 count
with two outs and a runner on second squirted a ground ball through the middle to score the go ahead run. It was like the life was sucked out of us, but we gave it our best shot despite, afterall, we did have our 3-4-5 hitters coming up. Hickman led off and beat out a infield single with a diving slide to first. The Lancer’s closer, Tagliarini, would have no more though as he got Ryan Walker to ground into a 6-4-3 double play and then retired Brandon Stone for the final out.

We couldn’t have fought any harder, and the only words I heard from the opposing coaches and other tournament teams lined down the fence watching the game was that our schedule just wasn’t fair and that we had a heck of a ball team. All good things to hear, but I wanted to see how the team reacted to going from a possible 1st place game to now playing two hours later in the 5th place game.

2:30 in the afternoon rolled around and it was play ball for the final time in Florida. The opponent was another Oklahoma bunch, Cascia Hall, a Catholic school from Tulsa. I quickly realized that despite the chatter from both dugouts, this was going to be a battle of attrition and who could fight through the pain the most.

Starting for the Canes was junior Ricky Padgett, who moved the ball effectively around the zone but got into trouble with walks. Fortunately, our offensive was on attack and score 3 runs in the first two innings and create a tied ballgame after three innings of play. The exhaustion on the faces of everyone was apparent and it really did seem to be a bit of a blur of a baseball game. Except for one person, sophomore Lawton Hendricks who came into to pitch the 4th, 5th, and 6th innings and did not give up a
run and only gave up two hits. Well placed strikes and good off-speed stuff can get the job done just about every time. Lesson for all pitchers to be learned!

In the 5th inning, after working the bases loaded with sophomores Larson Walker, Lawton Hendricks, and Matthew Burton, the Canes picked up a run off a walk to Drew Rhodes, but then grounded into a double play to end the inning. Then, in the 6th, one more insurance run was picked up off the bat of Burton and the Canes were up 5-3. To close it out, junior Clayton Smith took the mound and looked the strongest the year yet. He was 83-85 consistantly and hit 87 a few times. While he did issue a leadoff walk that stole second, took third, then was scored on a sacrifice, he struck out the next batter and then got the final out to fly out to right field. Canes win, 5-4.

It was over. The trip was amazing. We saw so many things while down here like a space shuttle launch, spring training games, and even Team USA in the bottom of the 9th pull out a win! We also saw rain and rain, and more rain, but it was all worth it. The quality of teams we played while down here and the intensity of the games was more than I could ask for. The boys from Charleston didn’t do too bad either. Congrats to Ryan Walker for making the All-Tournament team with a .556 average, 1 HR, 5 RBI, and 1 save in pool play. So, 2-2 and a 5th place finish isn’t too shabby, although I could see on the players faces they were disappointed and wanted more. Hopefully the thought of this trip will be motivation for them later in conference play and again in a playoff run!

-Thursday, 3/19/09-

After all of Wednesday being a wash and many hours spent in the hotel and walking around malls in the area, the Canes got word they would finally get to play their second game of the Westminster Classic. The catch, it was slated for a 11:30 PM start time! Oh, and then their third pool play game would begin at 9:00 AM the next morning. Well, one game at a time and first up was Norman North High from Oklahoma. They are a 6A school there, which have enrollments between all the way up to 4000 students. This was certainly David vs. Goliath.

The mood was excitement all night long though. It had to just be something about starting a game at midnight that made the players get even more into it. First Baptist started Drew Rhodes, the southpaw who has been effective thus far this year against teams with a lot of heavy hitters. In the middle of the second, it was 2 to 1, but in the bottom the Timberwolves placed a 4 spot on the board after a few walks and long drive down the leftfield line that Canes leftfielder Tyler Graves had in and out of his glove on a full extension dive. After that inning, something clicked for the FB hitters. After Josh Hickman beat out an infield single, Ryan Walker blasted his 5th homerun of the year. Kurt Cubberley then roped a double off the wall and was later brought in to tie game at five all.

Three more runs for First Baptist in the fourth was all they needed at a combined effort by the brothers, Larson (SO) and Ryan (SR), Walker on the mound. The youngster recorded the his first Varsity win as his older brother struck out the side to end the game. First Baptist 8, Norman North (OK) 5

All that adrenaline is sure going to be needed about seven hours later as the Canes actually take on a school their own size in Cambridge Christian from Tampa…stay tuned for what happens next.

-Tuesday, 3/17/09-

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, or so we thought…After settling into our team digs for the week, bed checks, and breakfast; it was time for us to play ball. First up, Gwinnett Christian, which is a team made up a home-schooled guys from the Atlanta area. No surprise that they could school just about anyone on the field as the Atlanta area is always a hotbed of baseball talent.

We were ready. With nervous excitement and anticipation running through the team, we added a little luck of the Irish with green tape, on everything! Through the first three innings, the score was 1-1 with each of the teams manufacturing those runs. The Gwinnett Barons starter, Conner Mason, was 86-87 and touched 90 a few times and really held the Canes in check through 5 2/3 innings. Ryan Walker started for First Baptist and did well until tournament pitching restrictions and a little arm trouble lifted him after the 3rd. Junior, Clayton Smith, in only his second appearance due to some arm troubles early in the year, came on strong hitting spots and working in the low-80’s but a few tweeners, and a dying quail later, the Barons put a few runs on the board.

We jumped back in the bottom of the inning with a single and stolen base by Josh Hickman who was driven in by Ryan Walker’s second hit of the day. That was all she wrote for our offense though. The Barons, on the other hand, continued to find holes and drop liners in throughout the game, coupled with a few Hurricane defensive miscues, which led to more runs for the bad guys. Final score, Gwinnett 13, First Baptist 3. That’s baseball and maybe they’ll fall on the other side for us next time!

Despite the lose, spirits remained good with our trip with Dolphin Stadium that night to catch the World Baseball Classic with Puerto Rico and USA in an elimination game. The excitement in the stadium was high and drums, maracas, and plenty of flags flying for both nations. Even with the stands hardly half full, the crowd was loud and rowdy. The lineups looked like a MLB All-Star game with names like Derek Jeter, David Wright and Jimmy Rollins for the US and Carlos Delgado and JC Romero for Puerto Rico. Four
homeruns in the first four innings highlighted the game until the bottom of the ninth when Team USA loaded the bases and won the game 6-5 off a Wright looper down the rightfield line. The ensuing pile up near second base of professional athletes brought a smile to our faces and many cheers from the home crowd. This in surely one that won’t be forgotten by those in attendance.

Tomorrow, First Baptist takes on Norman North (Oklahoma) in the Westminster Tournament at 7:00. Hopefully the Canes will bring home a win as well. Stay tuned for more…
-Sunday, 3/15/09-
After a 6:00 AM departure time from Charleston for a few of us, we arrived in Viera, FL for our first taste of a baseball junky’s dream. Space Coast Stadium was the site for the Detroit Tigers at the Washington Nationals, and just pulling into the complex got our blood pumping as we spotted BP rounds for all the invitees on the various practice fields. In the stadium, some names of note posted on the starting lineups were Christian Guzman and Ryan Zimmerman, and former South Carolina star, Adam Everett.

Warm and sunny weather created a little sunburn for the day, but we didn’t mind as we witnessed some great outings from the pitchers and some stellar defense. Eventually, the Tigers went ahead 2-0 and then got out of a bases loaded, no outs jam and eventually won by a score of 3-0.

As we left the stadium, we overheard some locals discussing the best place to witness the NASA space shuttle launch so we headed to Indiatlantic Beach for the sunset fireworks. The amazing feat of engineering overshadowed the day’s Spring Training action, but we’re sure to see much more baseball action as the week progresses. More to come…