GULF BREEZE, Florida – Early defensive problems proved to be the difference as the Ponce De Leon High School Lions from Tallahassee, Fla. defeated Durant 7-3 at the 24th Annual Aggie Classic baseball tournament Tuesday afternoon at Dolphin Field.
The Lions continue tourney play this morning matched up against defending champ and host Tate at 10 a.m. in Cantonment, Florida. The game was originally scheduled for Monday night but had to be postponed due to rain. Durant will then play at Washington High School in Pensacola at 7 p.m.
Known simply as Leon, the 7-1 Lions defeated future DHS district foe Pryor, 4-1, in the early game played at Gulf Breeze and then took advantage of a pair of unearned runs in the first and third innings to build a 4-0 lead.
A bloop single, walk and an infield error led to one run with the second coming across during a rundown to close out the first inning. In the third, a pair of Durant Lion infield miscues bookended around a hit and a hit by pitch to make it 3-0. Leon then tacked on the fourth run as it did in the first inning by using a rundown to push the runner across home plate before the final out was made.
Leon extended the lead to 6-0 in the fourth frame aided by a couple of singles, a fielder’s choice and a costly error that chased in two more runs. The Leon Lions closed out their scoring in the fifth with a run on two singles and a hit by pitch.
Trailing 7-0, the Durant Lions had managed just one base runner off of Leon starter Matthew Hicks through the first four innings. Brody Morgan reached first when he blooped a single between short and third in the third inning, but he was promptly picked off first moments later.
DHS finally reached Hicks, who improved to 2-0 on the season, for two runs in the fifth. A Kolby Blake single and a walk to Cade Buchanan set the table for Morgan who delivered a two-out, two-run double to get Durant closer at 7-2.
The DHS Lions added a third run in the sixth. Singles from Dakota Finley and Matthew Knox were followed by Connor Roberts reaching on an error. With the bases loaded, Brady Nichols plated the run on a fielder’s choice, however, pinch runner Kyle Hughes was tagged out at second base.
Blake then followed with a walk loading the bases with just one out. But Hicks retired the final two batters to end the Durant threat. Reliever Kaleb Beane set Durant down in order in the seventh to close out the game.
Gavin Daws, 0-1, was the tough-luck losing pitcher and probably should have fared better. He yielded four hits while striking out one and walking a batter in three innings of work. But three of the DHS errors loomed big. On the flip side, a closing relief stint from Jensen Simmons was a high point in the afternoon.
Durant coach Ron Moore took the first loss of the season in stride.
“We were a little flat,” he said. “It’s the first time these kids have been on this kind of trip. You want to try to balance out that fun and baseball as well. It’s a business trip and fun trip. That sort of thing.
“When you get down in a hole like that it is tough. There are 27 quality teams here. We just didn’t make the adjustments at the plate. I still felt like after we gave up those first few in the first inning that we would go out there and hit that young man. You have got to give him credit. He went out there and continued to throw his game.”
Moore liked what he saw from Simmons who had pitched to just one batter this season prior to Tuesday’s relief stint.
“There were a lot of bright spots in the game,” Moore added. “Jensen Simmons, who has been out hurt for a while, came in threw four great innings. It was good to see him back on the mound a little bit.”
Simmons yielded four hits and two earned runs. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out three.
Offensively, Morgan had two hits with Blake, Finley, and Knox collecting one safety each.
Jim Reagan is Sports Director for KSEO/KLBC Radio in Durant