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By Mike Capshaw
Special to the Citizen
A loud “Smack!” echoed throughout Terry Stroemer Field in Lake Butler, clearly audible even as dozens of Chiefland baseball fans cheered and clapped wildly.
Like a gavel after a court proceeding, the sound of assistant coach Chad Brock high-fiving pitcher Tim Reidy signaled an end to Baldwin’s chances as Chiefland (15-7) used the momentum of the inning to pull away for a 12-2, mercy-rule victory in the District 7-1A Championship game.
“When the momentum started changing with that inning it got us all to settle down and we were able to finish out with a great game,” Brock said.
Brock pointed out that this was his sixth district title with coach Kyle Parnell, including three as an assistant and three as a player. The CHS Indians will host Taylor Pierson in the regional semifinals at 7 p.m. on May 7. A win advances them to the Elite Eight where they’ll play the Baldwin/The Villages winner on Friday.
The extra enthusiastic high-five came after Reidy got a strikeout to escape unscathed from a situation with runners on second and third. At the time, CHS was clinging to a 2-1 lead in the third inning, making the moment a major momentum changer.
It was the second consecutive inning Reidy, who opened the game by striking out the side in the first, scored a strikeout to leave a pair of runners stranded on base. He got out of the second-inning jam with help from center fielder Cole Parks. What appeared like it was going to be a two-run base hit off the bat was instead ran down by the speedy senior in left-center field.
Another key defensive play came in the fifth when left fielder James Corbin came up firing after fielding a line drive down the line. Although a run scored, Corbin’s laser throw nailed the runner at second base and sent the team into celebration mode.
“Reidy was strong the whole time to give us a complete game and the guys were making plays behind him,” Parnell said. “Corbin’s throw kind of cooled (Baldwin’s) jets and took away their chance for a big inning.”
Chiefland had its big inning in the fourth with the help of Baldwin’s sloppy defense and inability to find a pitcher who could throw strikes. All six runs scored in the inning came with two outs and the most damage was done when Kyle Weeks drove in two runs after hitting a high hopper into the hole between third and short.
Weeks also hit a two-out, two-run single to increase the lead to 10-2 in the fifth inning.
With a full moon glowing above the left-field lights, CHS added two more runs in the sixth to invoke the mercy rule. Players stormed the field and dog piled Richard Cabeza, who drove in the final run, behind first base.
Winning the district tournament is remarkable considering CHS fields only four seniors in Parks, Reidy, Blayne Brookins and Clayton Smith, but the Indians aren’t quite ready to hang up their cleats.
“Hopefully, we can make an even bigger run at state,” Parks said. “But as a senior I couldn’t think of a better way to end district play by winning the title.”
After un-piling, Parnell, Parks and the rest of the team were presented with the championship trophy.
“It is two of the last three isn’t it?” Parnell said, smiling after being asked about the feat. “This is a special group of kids. We thought we had a chance for something special before the season, but we had some growing pains. We played well at times, and played ugly at times. But the kids never quit and kept working really hard.”
Winners of five straight games — including a 15-2, mercy-rule victory against previously unbeaten Trenton in the regular season finale — Chiefland is peaking at the right time. It also opened the district tournament with a 4-3 win against Newberry.
“We made some clutch plays in the Newberry game,” Parnell said. “Two seniors, Cole Parks and Jake Reidy, came up with big hits and freshman Trevor Castell pitched a complete game to help us get the ‘W.’ But it’s been a team effort. Everybody contributed at different times to help us reach this point.
“I couldn’t be any prouder of this team.”
After posing for photos and having a spirited post-game team meeting, players appropriately broke the huddle by shouting “State Champs,” which may have been the only thing all night louder than the “Smack!”