Island Coast baseball team outlasts weather, Suwannee to reach its first state championship
In the Class 4A state semifinal against Suwannee, it was important for Island Coast to get off to a fast start early at Hammond Stadium.
In a game that was delayed twice by more than five hours because of lightning and rain, the Gators were up 9–1 when Mother Nature stepped in and put a hold on the game just after 5:30 p.m. This one would last for more than 2 1/2 hours, and then at 8:44 p.m., there would be another one that would last for another 2 1/2 hours.
In the end, though, Island Coast beat the top-seeded Bulldogs 9-2 on Monday night to win its first state title in school history. They will play Jensen Beach in the state championship game, which is still set for 7 p.m. Tuesday. Jensen Beach beat Dunedin 2-0 in a game that started just before midnight on Monday and didn’t end until early Tuesday morning.
Island Coast coach Clint Montgomery said, “I thought the game started exactly how you would hope something would when you come here for the first time.” “It was a great start for us when we scored four runs in the first inning. That gave us a little bit of a boost. When Kevin Martinez is pitching and we score four runs, we feel pretty good.
“We did a great job of attacking in the next few innings to increase our lead. The weather delays worked out well. If the score was 3-2, it would have been a lot scarier.”
Island Coast got to Suwannee starter Matthew Gill early. They took him out of the game in the third inning after he gave up 10 hits, 9 runs, and 7 earned runs while walking no one and striking out two batters. Gill didn’t get any help on defense because Suwannee made four mistakes that led to multiple runs for the Gators.
“You wish your season would never end. Suwannee coach Justin Bruce said, “If it’s going to end, this is a good place for it to end.” “This is a group of high school seniors. For four years, they have put everything they have into this program. They’ve put a lot of time and effort into the younger guys, and the younger guys can learn a lot about how to do things right, which is important.
“This group is going to do a lot of good things in the future, and I couldn’t be prouder of the seniors and the season they’ve had.”
Martinez (12-1, 1.27 ERA) went back out to pitch after the first delay. He gave up a single and a walk to the first two Suwannee batters then struck out the next two. Camdon Frier, the Bulldogs’ No. 2 batter, hit an infield single that drove in a run before being picked off for the second time in the game with runners on first and third and two outs. Gill hit a double that went over the right-field wall in the first inning. At that time, he was up to try to cut the lead.
Martinez, who is going to Flagler, had a good final line. He went six innings, gave up six hits, two earned runs, walked one batter, and struck out 11 batters. Dylan Masters took over for Martinez, and he didn’t have any trouble sealing the win.
Martinez had only struck out ten or more batters in a game three times this year before Monday. He took advantage of a wide strike zone to get seven punchouts, which made it hard for the Suwannee batters to hit all game.
“The thing about Kevin is that I never worry about whether or not we’ll have a good game,” Montgomery said. “When he’s on the mound, the question is whether we can score three runs. Like I said about Boe Rodriguez, he’s been like that all year. Some days he throws pitches that get hits, and other days he throws pitches that make batters strikeout. Kevin was left out of a lot of lineups as the season went on. They weren’t interested in ideas. They didn’t want to fall behind in their counts.
“We’ve seen teams be aggressive and things like that. Even that doesn’t always work.”
— Joey Carucci (@Joeysangwiches) May 25, 2022
Gill said that Martinez was able to make the outer half of the strike zone bigger, and he thought that many strikes were called away and out of the zone. He also said that even though seven of the nine Bulldogs batters were hitting over.300 before the game, they couldn’t make the changes they needed to beat the right-hander.
“He was working hard,” Gill said of Martinez. “He was getting calls on the outside corner that we thought were balls, so we were just watching them. We didn’t like it, we thought they were jerks, but we needed to be more aggressive and weren’t.”
Rodriguez, who is going to FSW, had a good day for Island Coast on both offense and defense. The senior went 3-for-4 at the plate with a double, two runs scored, and an RBI. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Rodriguez made a key play by charging in on a slow ground ball before making a quick transfer and throw to first base. Martinez would then strike out the next two batters, ending his junior year on the mound with 91 strikeouts in 83 innings pitched.
Island Coast needs one more win to make history, and they will have 18 hours to get ready for their final game of the season. Since the other state semifinal game didn’t start until 25 minutes after their game ended at 11:30, the Gators will be more rested than Jensen Beach, which will have to play two games in less than 16 hours.
Both teams following them will be “here longer than we are,” Montgomery predicted. After we get them home, I’ll sit out there to watch them play and see how they do.” The fact that we’re back in our hometown, even if it’s not our home stadium or city, is a comfort for us. Our soldiers will be able to rest peacefully in their beds tonight. It doesn’t matter, in my opinion, in a game like tomorrow. There’s a good chance they’ll get pumped up. They will be ready to depart.”