McKeel Grabs Crucial District Win At Avon Park
McKeel manager Ron Nipper joked that the game added ten years to his age, and that is was worth it. The Wildcats, ranked #1 in the Tampa Bay Power Rankings, overcame one of their biggest demons by downing host Avon Park 4-1 in eight innings Wednesday night.
Senior Ross Nelson smacked a double to right field with the bases loaded in the eighth, scoring all three runners to take a big lead. Cody Woodring then put the finishing touches on things with a scoreless bottom of the eighth to secure the victory.
“Against a team like Avon Park, if we had just scored one there we would have been excited,” Nipper said of Nelson’s big hit. “That three-run cushion just made us that much more confident going into the bottom of the eighth. With a one-run lead, if they hit a single and a home run the game is over, because they are that good.”
McKeel won its twelfth consecutive game to improve to 17-2. More importantly, the Wildcats leaped ahead of the Red Devils for the lead in 5A-10 with a 5-1 mark. The clubs split the regular-season series, with both sides winning on the other’s home turf. Avon Park was the last team to saddle McKeel with a loss back on February 26th.
“We talked about it this week with our players, and we had some kind of a mental block about playing at Avon Park,” Nipper said. “They are very good at home, they have a great crowd and a great atmosphere and it is an old Minor League stadium. It is just a really tough place to play and we hadn’t won there since I have been at McKeel. So I think this win goes a long way to show our kids that we can now win at that stadium. If we make it to the district championship game, and if we play Avon Park, that is where it would be.”
Josh Rivera delivered a strong start for Avon Park (12-3, 4-2), tossing seven full innings and allowing one earned run while striking out five. But the offense was limited against starter Dylan Lefebvre and Woodring, who allowed just two baserunners while striking out six in his five relief innings.
“Woodring was just dominant and he only allowed one hit in five innings,” Nipper said. “So we felt really good with him out there at the end with a three-run lead.”
Alex Gomez was 2-for-3 and scored Avon Park’s only run, coming in on an RBI from Gabe Gomez in the bottom of the fourth to break a scoreless tie. McKeel’s Josh Jano had an RBI single to drive in Clark Grenfell to even things up an inning later. Things remained in a tight deadlock until the eighth inning, when the Wildcats found more of the magic that has fueled them all season.
“That is a very well-coached team,” Nipper admitted. “They don’t make mistakes and they don’t beat themselves. So we needed to prove to ourselves that we can go in to that stadium and beat them. We are not the most talented team in the world, but right now our guys think they an beat anybody and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”