TAMPA —The last time Sickles took the field, it lost a heartbreaker when Alonso scored a two-out run in extra innings to knock the Gryphons out of the Saladino Tournament.
So as they prepared to take on tournament champion Plant, Levi Gilcrease, determined not to let the last-second disappointment happen again, had a quick word of advice for his teammates.
“I just told the guys before the game, ‘Just be relaxed,’ ” the rightfielder said.
Sickles took heed, staying patient through four scoreless innings before Gilcrease helped the Gryphons take off in the fifth with a two-RBI double on their way to a 4-0 win against Plant.
Panthers ace Jake Woodford and Sickles’ Shane Haight started the night off well, as each starter allowed just one hit through the first four innings. In the fifth, an Isaac Southers single and a walk put two on for Sickles (8-4, 2-2), and Southers scored the first run on a Plant (11-3, 5-0) throwing error.
Then Gilcrease saw his chance.
The former Cambridge Christian player, who came in with a team-leading 12 RBIs, added two more to that total with his double before Troy Bacon singled in another run for good measure.
The momentum-grabbing double was just the spark the Gryphons needed, and coach Bob Pagano wasn’t at all surprised by who delivered it.
“I expect (Gilcrease) to do it all the time, that’s the problem,” Pagano joked. “I expect a lot out of him, and he comes through. …He gives us a lot of oomph that we need.”
Haight’s day would be done after Plant heavy hitter Kyle Tucker hit a home run to rightfield in the bottom of the sixth. Haight gave up three hits and struck out four in five innings. Grant Baker had a similarly successful outing, stifling Plant’s attempt at a late-game comeback.
After losing in extra innings to Alonso, Gilcrease said the coaches reminded them that they had played their best. The Gryphons’ frustration, he said, was still palpable.
There’s still a lot of season left to be played. But Gilcrease said he thinks a win against a strong Plant team, who came in riding a 12-game win streak, will put extra pep in the Gryphons’ steps as they work to complete it.
“It’s huge,” he said. “We’ve lost a couple districts games that were close, so it’s nice to win a close game against a real good team.”