EAST LAKE — Quite a time to make the first start of a career, and a great time to make a little history as well.
After working six games in relief this season for Seminole, Jordy Owens got the call from coach Rob Ciaravino to start Friday.
On the road. Against an East Lake team with four straight 20-win seasons. For the Class 8A-7 district title, something the Warhawks haven’t won since 2012. And to increase the pressure, the Eagles’ Lucas Ismaili launched the sixth pitch he saw well over the leftfield fence for a leadoff home run.
But from that point on, Owens was a rock. Working at a rapid pace, the junior mixed his pitches well and wasn't afraid of letting his defense work for him, even pitching in with a big play himself.
Closing with a rush against the East Lake bullpen, Seminole pulled away for a 6-1 victory and will host the loser of Saturday morning’s Sarasota-Lakewood Ranch district final in the start of region play on Wednesday. The Eagles will travel to face the winner of that contest.
“Lucas Ismaili is a great hitter,” Owens said. “You’ve got to give him credit, and East Lake can play some real ball. I just hit my spots, started them off with sliders, change-ups, curves and stuff. They just never seemed to know what was coming. The coaches did a good job calling pitches.”
“We knew he had pretty good off-speed pitches to keep (East Lake's) good offense off-balance,” Ciaravino concurred. “He has command of all three of his pitches and we felt he could stay around the strike zone.”
His confidence also received a boost when the Warhawks (12-14) bounced back in the top of the second inning and took the lead. Shaun Whitcomb drilled a double over the third-base bag and scored when the catcher couldn’t track down a wild pitch to the backstop. No. 9 hitter Jean Ovalles followed with a two-bagger of his own and came home on Tyler Strickland’s double.
“It was nice to have the lead and the team did a great job hitting and scoring runs,” Owens said.
East Lake (23-3) had opportunities to draw even but was thwarted each time.
With Parker Opie (single, wild pitch and balk) at third with no outs in the second, Owens kept the ball in the infield and retired the next three batters he faced. With the bases loaded in the third, an infield popout killed the threat. And in the fifth, Owens helped his own cause when he snagged a blazing one-hopper at his head, froze Ismaili off of third base and started a rundown that caught the junior at the plate.
“I watched it right into my glove, it was just like PFP (pitcher's fielding practice),” Owens said. “That was a big one. If he scores, it's tied and you never know what's going to happen.”
Seminole picked up a big insurance run in the sixth on a throwing error then padded its lead with three in the seventh on Owens' RBI single and a two-run base hit from Jett McHugh (three of the Warhawks' nine hits).
“We've been working hard on seeing the ball, letting it get deep, and we've been coming up with big hits,” Ciaravino said. “We have some great athletes on this team with the ability to beat any team at any time. We're starting to play at the right time.”
Conversely, East Lake is looking to break out of a funk that started when leading hitter Josh Pigozzo went down with an ACL injury, going 3-3 in its past six contests.
“We’ve always had the mentality of ‘next man up’,” coach Zack Roper said. “Josh is sorely missed but you don’t win with just nine guys. We’ve had guys preparing throughout the year so they’re ready to step up and play.
Roper concluded: “We had the same thing happen in 2016. We lost in districts and had to be road warriors. We won the quarterfinals, semifinals and got to the regional finals. We’re looking to push through the same barrier this year.”