Nease blasts Tampa King for first baseball state title

Nease baseball By The Times-Union

Kyle Huber continued to do what he’s done all season long for Nease.

The junior had five RBIs, including a two-run homer over the left field wall, as Nease won its first state baseball title in program history early Friday morning with an 11-0 rout of Tampa King in the Class 7A championship at Hammond Stadium. The game was pushed back nearly three hours from its scheduled 7:35 p.m. start and didn’t finish until close to 12:30 a.m.

It marked just the third state championship for a team from St. Johns County, joining one in 1954 by Ketterlinus, now St. Augustine High, and another by Ponte Vedra (2013).

Nease (21-11) had been to two state semifinals prior to this season, in 1995 and 2005, but had never played for a championship until now. Six seniors even put off attending their graduation so that they could play in the regional final at Tate last week, so playing on deep into the night was just one more step along the way.

It made things look too easy. Pitcher Leighton Alley fired a complete game to earn the 24th victory of his career — a program-record — and the Nease offense continued its torrid late-season assault.

The Panthers were on from the outset, pushing two runs across in each of the first three innings and never allowing King a chance.

Huber’s shot over the left-field wall in the top of the second put Nease up 4-0. RBI singles by Tyler McKay and Cody Hargus in the third stretched that lead out even further.

“When he gets hot, he gets hot. When I see him get one big hit, I know he’s going to have a huge day,” Nease coach Jeremiah Klosterman said of Huber. “We just kind of jumped on his shirttails and he took us along.”

Thursday’s game was the 20th game played at Hammond since the state playoffs arrived last week, but Huber knocked just the second home run of the championships. He turned on an 0-1 pitch from King’s Luke Drummond, depositing a no-doubt-about it-blast onto the hill behind left, giving the Panthers a commanding lead.

“It felt pretty good. As I was rounding first I looked and saw it was still up there,” Huber said about his shot. “This has been a long time coming, we’ve been a good baseball program, contenders every year. It was really nice, especially for the seniors to get it done.”

Huber also drove in a run in the fourth, an RBI double to the gap in right center field, scoring Jayson Sowden, and pushing the Nease lead to 7-0. Huber scored Sowden again in the sixth, part of a 4-for-5 night at the plate.

The Panthers started in on King right away. Sowden started the game with a leadoff double, and came home after an errant throw to first later in the inning.

Two batters later, Collin Garner came home on a single from Alley, which dropped right in between the center fielder and retreating shortstop. Nease added two more in the sixth, after Sowden took a pitch to the middle of his back, coming home thanks to yet another Huber single. Later in the inning, Huber came home on a fielder’s choice from Jay Gallagher, making it 9-0.

Chris Eichorn doubled home another run in seventh to get to double digits, then Huber capped off his night with yet another double, scoring Eichorn.

“We jumped on them early, but the two innings where we had two two-out knocks really just kind of knocked the wind out of them, and these guys just fed off it,” Klosterman said.

In a day full of delays, first pitch came at shortly after 10 p.m., Thursday’s game had an odd one slow it up in the bottom of the first. Alley was directed by umpires to go into the dugout and change his clothes. The pitcher was wearing a beige undershirt beneath his white Nease jersey. After a short delay to find a green shirt to wear, Alley sat down King in order.

“I felt pretty good, especially after pitching an inning yesterday so my arm wasn’t giving me any trouble,” Alley said. “I knew I had eight people behind me, just throw strikes and let them make plays, and we came out with the W. I couldn’t be happier for us.”

After closing for the Panthers on Wednesday, Alley threw a complete game shutout, scattering five hits and walk.

 

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