Palm Beach High School Baseball
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St. Andrew’s Can’t Back Up Tight’s Strong Start

Michael Tight (9) on the mound for the St. Andrew’s Scots.

The Pine Crest Panthers (2-4) took down the Saint Andrew’s Scots (2-4) on Tuesday, 7-2, behind a complete-game performance from senior right-hander Mason Koczwara.

It was the first start of the season for Koczwara, who is headed to Lafayette College next year as a two-way player, and he looked very much like the ace Pine Crest manager Rob Conver is hoping he can be. Koczwara is relatively new to pitching, but he says that things are locking in quickly for him. A 10-strikeout complete game in his first outing is evidence that things are indeed clicking for him, and it’s no accident that Koczwara is seeing success on the mound.

“This summer, I really thought to myself ‘if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this,'” Koczwara said. “So, at the beginning of the summer, I was like 150 (pounds). I gained 50 pounds and now I’m sitting at 200-205. It just started to really click there.”

The added weight means added velocity, and Koczwara said he’s been clocked as high as 93 mph this season. He was working in roughly the high 80s on Tuesday, and the Scots fanned enough times to confirm that Koczwara’s stuff is for real. Despite going the distance and getting almost half of his outs via the punchout, Koczwara refused to take full credit for the win. He pointed to the defense behind him for making him look good.

Conver praised Koczwara as a team leader and said that he’s been building up to this start. He might not have planned to throw him for 100 pitches over seven innings, but Koczwara pleaded a successful case to stay in the game and finish it.

“I didn’t think so,” Conver said when asked if the plan was to throw Koczwara seven innings. “But when someone is throwing like that, you have to let them go. And like I said, his arm is built up. It’s strong. It’s fresh. He wanted it. He was at 88 pitches going into that last inning, and he convince me to be completely honest. He earned it, and he deserves everything he got today.”

Jack Rostock (8) scored on a Michael Tight triple in the bottom of the second against Pine Crest.

Of course, Koczwara needed some help at the plate from his team to win the game, and leadoff man Ian Hurt provided him with some early run support. Hurt, who admits that he’s not much of a power hitter, started the game off with a leadoff solo shot to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead. It was his first home run, and Hurt made sure to give credit to Conver, who recently helped him tweak his swing.

“I had to make an adjustment in the cages,” Hurt said. “Last game, I started pulling out. My shoulder was doing anything right. I was rolling over and hitting fly balls. Coach Conver gave me one small adjustment in the cage, and I took it into the game. I saw the pitch, the perfect pitch I like, and the result is what I wanted.”

Hurt says he got a similar pitch later on from St. Andrew’s starter Michael Tight, which is why he was able to drive it for a triple. Scots center fielder Dylan Dubovik had a chance at the ball, but it tipped off his glove as he extended for the catch.  It was a career day for Hurt, and his newfound power is a welcomed addition to his game.

It shouldn’t be lost that Tight bounced back after surrendering the leadoff homer, though. St. Andrew’s was in this game much longer than the score might indicate and even carried a lead into the fifth inning. Tight didn’t put up any ridiculous strikeout numbers, but he did hold the Panthers to one run through four innings before struggling.

Errors and walks compounded what ended up being a two-hit inning for the Panthers and shifted the momentum of the game for good. Four runs came across the board, and Tight was pulled in favor of freshman Jack Rostock.

“I was doing well, and then things kind of fell apart,” Tight said. “Sometimes, when we make errors, we kind of break down as a team. We’re getting better at battling and facing adversity. We’ll get through it.”

Tight praised the Scots’ coaching staff for keeping him grounded after the rough start. Although things didn’t end the way Tight hoped, he was able to get through a mostly successful outing. He also contributed at the plate, knocking both of his team’s runs on the afternoon.

St.Andrew’s first baseman Carter Derk (16) catches a pop-up in the infield for an out.

It hasn’t been an ideal start to the season for the Scots, but the program is in a transition period under first-year manager Alan Sharkey. Setting the foundation for the future is difficult enough for new managers, and having a young team means even more growing pains for the program.

“We did a lot of positive things, but we’re just not playing good baseball right now,” Sharkey said. “We’ve got to be able to field the routine play. My pitcher, Mike Tight, he’s been shoving all season, hitting his spots. We’ve just got to play defense behind him.  We’re a young team. We’ve got a lot of growing to do and we’re going to get better.”

Sharkey thinks the second half of the season will be better for his players as they continue to mature. His best hitters have still yet to hit their stride, and the wins could pile up quickly once they do.

For Pine Crest, this is a big second win of the season. Koczwara looks like a legitimate arm that can be relied on for big games, and the bats are coming alive, especially at the top of the order. Hurt, of course, led the team with a pair of extra-base hits (home run, triple) and two RBIs, and all but one Panthers reached base.

Looking ahead, Pine Crest closes out the week with Fort Lauderdale and then has a three-game week set up to prepare for defending Class 3A state champs North Broward Prep.

“We’re really confident,” Conver said. “That’s one thing I have to give these guys credit for. Even after the slow start, practice never let down. They just put their nose into the ground and do work. Spirits are high, and they come out to play the game. It was only a matter of time until things started going our way.”

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