The Thunder used big hits and steady pitching to beat St. Johns Country Day 5-3 in Fort Myers.
One day after The Out-of-Door Academy baseball Coach Mike Matthews turned to small ball to win a game out of a lack of timely hitting, the Thunder offense had to face an even bigger challenge in St. Johns Country Day (24-7), and this one was for the Class 2A state championship. Matthews said he had full faith in his offense to recover from its unusually tough day and rise to the challenge.
ODA (24-3) proved him right.
Home runs from junior Aidan Marino and senior Nolan Lewellen were the big hits Matthews knew would eventually come, the type of hits the Thunder has pulled out of its bag all season when it needed them the most. The home runs, combined with St. Johns committing three errors in the second inning, and steady pitching from junior Josh Cone and senior Tyler Colditz, were enough to give the Thunder a 5-3 win, securing the state title. It is the program's first state title win.
Colditz struck out the final batter of the game and the team dogpiled him in celebration. Hugs were given and laughs were had. Lewellen said as fun as the celebration looked, it felt even better.
"I'm just trying to take in every moment," Lewellen said. "There's not a better group of guys we could have done this with. A lot of us have been together since we were 9 or 10 years old. This whole day we have been talking about it. Our goal was [winning] the state championship, and we did it. Goal acquired, I guess."
Despite being outhit 8-6, ODA was able to stay in the game thanks to St. Johns' second-inning defensive mistakes. Down 2-0, consecutive errors by the Spartans put Colditz and senior PJ Fincher on second and third. Senior Ryan Kelly hit a sacrifice fly to score Colditz and Fincher advanced to third on the throw home. The next hitter, freshman Nolan Naese, hit a shallow pop up that escaped the range of the Spartans' infielders and dropped for a base hit. Fincher would score to tie the game.
Marino would break the tie with his two-run homer in the fourth inning.
"It was a long at-bat," Marino said. "I was battling, trying to see every pitch. He [St. Johns junior Brad Hodges] threw me a mistake and I dominated it."
St. Johns would get one run back in the fifth inning before Lewellen's solo shot reestablished the team's two-run lead.
Cone threw 4.2 innings for ODA, allowing three runs (two earned) on eight hits. Colditz, who Matthews calls "Ice," took over in relief and threw 2.1 perfect innings to close out the win.