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Spanish River Tops Santaluces, Faces Park Vista Next

John O'Connor hit a two-out, two-RBI single in the fourth inning.

It might have taken two days to get the game played, but the Spanish River Sharks topped the Santaluces Chiefs in the district 8A-10 quarterfinals on Tuesday 3-0.

Originally scheduled for Monday, bad weather in the area forced both teams to scrap Monday’s contest and come back Tuesday and give it another try. Park Vista coaches spent a lot of the day Tuesday getting the field in playing shape, and while it was played under cloudy skies the rain held off and the game was able to be played.

When the teams finally hit the field they played a tightly-contested match up, just like they had done so many times in the past. Heading into Tuesday night’s game, the two teams had played twice during the regular season, with Spanish River winning the two games by a combined score of 5-2.

Just as was the case in their final regular season meeting back in March, Ian Morton got the start on the night for the Sharks. He put up an almost identical stat line Tuesday as he did on March 10th. In that meeting, Morton went the distance, allowing six hits while striking out four. On Tuesday night, Morton once again went the distance, this time allowing just four hits while striking out six.

“I felt good tonight,” Morton said. “It was all about hitting my spots, keeping the ball low, and doing my job.”

Morton got himself into a little bit of a jam right out of the gate in the first inning. After Santaluces leadoff man AJ Orrico drew a walk to start the game, Auston Smith got a hit to put runners at first and second. Chris Morgia hit into a fielders choice, but it advanced Orrico and quickly Morton found himself with runners on the corners and only one out. A heads up play by Sharks second baseman Anthony Acino to throw home on a pop fly drew a double play, getting Morton out of the jam. He cruised from that point on and kept Chiefs batters guessing the rest of the night.

“The key was working inside outside,” Morton said.

Spanish River managed to score right off the bat. After Morton got out of the jam in the first, the offense gave him some quick run support thanks in large part to smart base running from Billy Marion. After a leadoff single, Marion advanced to second, third, and home off of wild pitches or passed balls.

Right-hander Chad Tworek got the start for Santaluces, allowing one run on three hits.

Arguably the biggest offensive play came in the bottom of the fourth. Clinging to a 1-0 lead and with two outs, Sharks center fielder John O’Connor came to the plate with two men on. He hit a shallow fly to center and, although the Santaluces center fielder made a diving attempt on the ball, he wasn’t able to come up with it and the two baserunners scored. It was a two-out, two-RBI single for O’Connor and it gave Spanish River just the insurance runs it needed.

“I got the count to 3-2,” O’Connor said. “All I had to do was get in there and get those two runners in and fortunately it got down and the two scored for us.”

O’Connor stepped up in a big spot there, which was very important for Spanish River Manager William Harvey.

“Anytime you can go ahead and get a couple of runs, it’s big,” Harvey said. “John has struggled a little the last week or so and he hit the ball pretty well. They made a nice effort on it; the fielder was just a step short. That was a big moment. He makes that catch and I would like to think that we still go on and win, but it sure makes it a whole different ball game.”

Spanish River moves on to play top-ranked Park Vista on Wednesday night in a semifinal matchup. Not only does Park Vista come in as the top seed in the district tournament, they come in as the second ranked team in the entire country. As a result, Harvey knows he is going to have a tough game on his hands Wednesday night.

“I told the kids that there is only one other team in the country that’s got a harder road through districts than we do and that’s the team that has to play the #1 team in the country,” Harvey said. “Obviously they have a great ball club and we are going to have to play our best game. Cam Weinberger is going to have to be on and we can’t leave bases loaded. I expect us to give a good effort.”

Santaluces ends its season with a 9-17 record, but Manager Nick Franco knows that there were a lot of positives that came out of the season.

“I give a lot of credit to my eight seniors,” Franco said. “We started the season off 1-10 and the seniors kept us motivated to still work hard at practice. We had a young team mixed in with those seniors, with very little varsity experience. They showed the young guys what it was all about. The good thing is, the young guys this year won’t be young next year. They will have a lot of experience and understand that the varsity season is a grind, and even if you start off poor we can still practice hard and work on the things we need to work on every day.”

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