The Valdosta Daily Times
Palm Beach Atlantic’s baseball team exploded for five runs in the top of the eighth, and defeated Valdosta State 7-2 in the Blazers’ season opener on Friday night at Billy Grant Field.
The five-run outburst broke open a tie game, and gave the Sailfish a win on the first day of the Comfort Suites Classic.
The score was tied 2-2 heading into the top of the eighth. Palm Beach Atlantic’s Matt Perkowski drew a walk to start the inning, but was forced out at second on A.J. Steimel’s ground ball to short. Steimel beat the throw to first. Then Anthony Ortiz ripped a line drive double that rolled to the fence just a few feet inside the left field line. That put runners on second and third with one out. VSU head coach Greg Guilliams went to the bullpen and brought in submariner Benjamin Weil, who walked Ethan Perla, the Sailfish’s ninth hitter.
Ryan Gerber followed with a line drive single into right field. Steimel and Ortiz scored, giving the Sailfish a 4-2 lead. After Gerber stole second, Weil struck out Ryan Drew for the second out. Then Joel Buchko hit what should have been an inning-ending ground ball to short. But VSU’s Nick Rodda, normally a sure-handed shortstop, didn’t field the ball cleanly and Buchko beat the throw to first, allowing Perla to score. Gerber tried to score from second, and scored when the throw from first was well off the mark, giving the Sailfish a 6- lead. Two batters later, Andres Vazquez’s single to left scored Buchko, and made it 7-2.
That was more than enough run support for Palm Beach Atlantic starter Nic Kovacs. Kovacs (1-0) pitched 7 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and five hits and striking out five. Relief pitchers Matt Niedzwiecki and Jimmy Kelly combined to retire the Blazers’ final four hitters and close out the win.
Palm Beach Atlantic got on the board quickly in the top of the first. Gerber led off the game with a triple to right center. One out later, Buchko was hit by a pitch and Karl Kapinos walked to load the bases. Vazquez hit a line drive to center field, and Gerber tagged up and scored to give the Sailfish a 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the third, the Blazers took the lead with two runs. Ryan McClellan lined a one-out single to center and Dan Hoover beat out a bunt, putting two runners on. Then Jake Montgomery ripped a double to right center. McClellan and Hoover raced around the bases and crossed home plate to give Valdosta State a 2-1 lead.
Valdosta State starter Pete Whittingslow limited Palm Beach Atlantic to one run and three hits in five innings of work, and struck out six. He departed with a 2-1 lead.
Palm Beach Atlantic tied the score with a run off of reliever Zach John (0-1) in the top of the sixth. Steimel was hit by a pitch and Perla singled to right, putting two men on with two outs. The runners moved up on a wild pitch. Then on ball four to Gerber, John’s pitch was in the dirt and got away, and Steimel raced home to tie the score.
The score remained 2-2 until the Sailfish got five runs in the eighth inning.
For the Sailfish, Gerber went 2 for 4, drove in two runs and scored two runs in the win. Vazquez went 2 for 4 with two RBIs.
Montgomery had three of the Blazers’ five hits on Friday, and drove in both of their runs.
In the first game of the tournament, Lynn defeated North Georgia 9-8 in 10 innings.
The Comfort Suites Classic continues today at Billy Grant Field. Valdosta State will face Lynn at 2 p.m., and Palm Beach Atlantic will play North Georgia at 6 p.m.
The tournament will wrap up with two games on Sunday.