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Out-of-Door Academy Wins First State Baseball Title

Dennis Maffezzoli - Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Thunder get home runs from Aidan Marino and Nolan Lewellen and perfect relief from Tyler Colditz in 5-3 victory over St. Johns Country Day.
FORT MYERS — One day after winning with a small-ball attack, the Out-of-Door Academy baseball team turned to its power game, both at the plate and on the mound, to secure a coveted state championship trophy.

Aidan Marino hit a two-run home run, Nolan Lewellen hit a solo shot and Tyler Colditz got the final seven outs in the Thunder’s 5-3 victory over Orange Park St. Johns Country Day in the FHSAA Class 2A state final Thursday at Hammond Stadium at the CenturyLink Sports Complex, spring training home of the Minnesota Twins.

It was Out-of-Door Academy’s first baseball state championship in program history in Coach Mike Matthews’ initial season. 

ODA head coach Mike Matthews shows off the trophy after the Thunder beat St. Johns Country Day in the 2A state baseball title game in Fort Myers on Thursday. PHOTO/CHRIS TILLEY
“We overcame a lot,” Matthews said. “I don’t think anyone expected us to win this game. I told them it was going to be a dog fight and it sure was. And we came out on the winning side. It was awesome.”

The Spartans (24-7) entered the game as the top-ranked team in Class 2A and the fifth-ranked team in the state.

“Surreal feeling, unbelievable,” Matthews said. “So proud of these guys. I told them before the season they were capable of this. They continued to grow throughout the season and executed and did the things I asked them to do every single day.”

Dropping three bunts and scoring four runs in the seventh inning after trailing 2-1 Lake Worth Trinity Christian in the state semifinals Wednesday, the Thunder (24-3) had more success swinging the bat Thursday.

“Our guys have made adjustments all year long,” Matthews said. “It’s something we preached from the very beginning. See what the pitcher gives us. See what defense gives us. See what the umpire gives us and make adjustments through that. 

“We tried some small ball early and didn’t necessarily execute. Our guys just stayed in there and grinded it out and made some solid contact on some really tough pitches and we were able to get the job done when we needed it the most.”

After St. Johns Country Day scored one run in each of the first two innings, the Thunder got even thanks in part to Spartan defensive miscues. Consecutive errors placed runners on second and third with no outs in the bottom of the second before Ryan Kelly launched a sacrifice fly to left for a run. No. 9 hitter freshman Nolan Naese had a hustle, bloop double to center to tie it.

The key defensive play of the game came when St. Johns Country Day had runners on second and third and two outs in the fourth inning. Thunder third baseman Tanner Fairchild snared a ball slicing toward the left-field corner to end the threat.

“It’s a huge momentum play,” Matthews said. “They were setting up to score against us. Right place, right time. That’s how baseball works sometimes. A huge emotional switch right there.”

Then ODA brought out the big sticks.

After Colditz was thrown out at third trying to stretch a double into a triple to open the fourth, his teammates bailed him out in a big way.

Catcher PJ Fincher reached on an infield single and Marino belted a 3-2 pitch onto the left-field berm for his second home run of the season to break a 2-all tie. 

“It was a long at-bat,” Marino said. “I was just battling, trying to see every pitch. He threw me a mistake and I dominated it.”

After the Spartans, who also were looking for their first state title, made it 4-3 in the top of the fifth, Lewellen led off the bottom of the inning by tucking in his second home run of the season inside the left-field foul pole in what turned out to be the senior’s final high school at-bat. 

“It’s crazy right,” Lewellen said. “I just had one mentality. Coach (Jake) Taraska told me to see ball, hit ball. That’s what I told myself. Just happy to see it on the right side of the foul pole.”

The rest of the game was entrusted to Colditz, known as “Ice” by his teammates.

Josh Cone, who won the regional title game, worked the first 4⅔ innings, allowing eight hits and three runs (two earned) while walking one and striking out two. 

“Josh battled and got through four-and-two-thirds,” Matthews said. “At that point, we had it in the game plan, we were going to go to 'Ice' in the fifth inning on. We were able to do that and he was able to prevail for us.” 

The right-hander got the final seven outs in order, including a strikeout to end the fifth inning with Spartans on first and second base.

“It was just amazing,” Colditz said. “I dreamt about that situation so many times. Coming true is just amazing.

“It feels really good, especially with the defense I’ve got behind me. I know they are going to make plays. Just pitch to contact.”

The hardest contact Colditz endured was when his teammates tackled him on the mound after the final out. 

“It’s just an amazing feeling to end the season with a win, going out on top, especially for the seniors in our last high school game being the state champ is just amazing,” Colditz said.

For Lewellen, it was a totally different emotion from his final football game. In the Sunshine State Athletic Conference Class A championship game, the Thunder squandered a 19-0 lead and fell 20-19 to Jacksonville Bishop Snyder. 

“This feeling is immensely better,” said Lewellen, a wide receiver/defensive back. “I can’t describe it. Going out on top is a dream come true. I’m just trying to take everything. There’s not a better group of guys we could do this with.

"We’ve been together since 9 or 10 years old. This whole day we’ve been talking about it. We set our goal. We set our goal as the state championship and we did it.”
 
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