Commentary: Riverview Rams Baseball crowned champions of the district playoffs
Ian Dempsey ‘21
After seven long and hard-fought years, the Riverview Rams Varsity baseball squad is finally champion of the Class 7A District 8 title. As a senior, this season has meant the world to me, and I’d like to share my recollection of the highlights of the week.
Execution was key, especially in the first district playoff game against Newsome (Lithia). Having to put down three bunts out of my four plate appearances, I recognized the concept of being a team player, even if it meant getting out all three times. In the bottom of the first inning, Newsome (Lithia) struck twice, but we got those runs right back after I came to the plate with one out and runners on the corners. Head Coach Jeremy Schmidt gave me the push bunt sign down the first base line, and I did just that on the first pitch of the at-bat, scoring the go-ahead run at the time.
Riverview would add another run to make it 4-2, as that was all junior Pip Smalley would need. Recently awarded the Student-Athlete of the Month from SNN Network, he proved he was the best of the best. He tossed six innings of three-hit baseball while striking out 10 batters and only giving up one more run in the fifth inning. Smalley also chipped in with an RBI double and run scored.
Courtesy of another four-run inning in the bottom of the third, a two-run inning in the fourth, and three runs in the sixth inning, nothing could stop our offense from capturing the 10-run rule.
As a result, we took the first game by a score of 13-3 in which the bats were hot from the get-go. Seniors Carter Knight, Kyle Upman and Cole Griffith in total had six runs batted in, three, two, and one respectively. Griffith went 4-5 at the plate, scoring twice, while junior infielders Chris Barr and Clay Russin both scored three runs, with Barr going 3-3 and Russin going 2-3 with four runs batted in.
With this win, Riverview was awarded a berth in the district championship against Durant (Plant City), who run-ruled Lakewood Ranch as well 11-0. Run-ruling must be a motif here as
Riverview must’ve caught on first as we blanked Durant (Plant City) themselves 10-0 to secure the district championship.
Yet, let’s figure out how we reached this terrific milestone. It all started in the bottom of the second inning, when Knight drove in Barr with a single to center field. One batter later, junior infielder Dylan Wilds drove me in with another single to give us a 2-0 lead. And it didn’t stop there as in the next inning, I drove in one more run with an RBI groundout to the second baseman.
Four more runs were added in the fourth inning, highlighted by a three-run home run from Smalley to right center, as all this support gave senior pitcher Karson Ligon a much easier workload. He shoved six complete innings while striking out 10 batters and giving up only three hits. Coming off a forced quarantine at school after being exposed to someone who had the virus, he looked as fresh as ever. Absolutely nothing could faze him, as this may have been one of his best outings in a Riverview Rams uniform.
With a 7-0 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, Ligon’s night was done, but if we could plate three more runs, the game would be over and another pitcher would not be necessary. That request was followed to a tee as Barr and I both reached base. Schmidt went to his reserves and pulled out junior catcher Cooper Bowditch. Both runners eventually got to second and third on a wild pitch as with a single, so that Bowditch could drive them both in and that’s exactly what he did, contributing off the bench in a big way. Smalley, with two outs, and senior outfielder Jakobi Davis on third slapped another single to drive Davis in, and just like that, it happened.
Our team stormed the field like zombies chasing after Smalley as once again, he performed at his best. Finishing 2-4 with four runs batted in and a run scored, his play did the talking.
After that joyful celebration, the trophy was carried out onto the field, and as soon as the congratulatory speech from athletic director Rod Dragash concluded, he awarded the trophy to the entire squad. They hoisted it high above for everybody to see and mark the accomplishment of something that hadn’t been done in a long time.
However, the focus now shifts to this Friday, May 7, as we will host Sickles (Citrus Park) for the first game of regionals at 7 p.m. Bring those cowbells and make some noise to support the Rams squad in their quest to a state title.