Citrus base runner Joel McHugh, right, scores ahead of the tag by Crystal River pitcher Jonah Peterson during the second inning Tuesday night at Citrus High School in Inverness. The Hurricanes scored five times in the inning on their way to a 6-1 victory over the Pirates.
INVERNESS — Lately, it seemed, the Citrus baseball team had a rough time shaking off spring break. The Hurricanes had played six times the past two weeks since the Farm Bureau Classic, and lost them all.
That all changed Tuesday night when county and Class 6A, District 6 rival Crystal River paid a visit. Thanks to some miscues in the field and a strong pitching performance, the ’Canes broke their losing streak with a 6-1 victory.
"Came with energy and effort, and just played the way I know they can play, and hopefully they’re starting to realize that they can play that well, also," Citrus head coach Ryan Thomas said. "It is a definite morale booster. We’ve dropped six in a row before tonight and that can tend to put you down in the dumps a little bit, especially as a baseball player where everything’s driven off of stats.
"Some guys have been down, but they’re starting to contribute and find that confidence. It’s good for us coming down the stretch leading into the district tournament to build some confidence and build some momentum."
The ’Canes (6-11 overall, 4-6 6A-6) took advantage of some shoddy defense by the Pirates (7-9 overall, 4-4 6A-6) to put up a five-spot in the bottom of the second inning. After two walks, ninth-place hitter James Smith grounded a single to right to drive in the game’s first run, and the throw home squirted away from the catcher to allow a second runner to come across.
Mitchell Barroso followed with a base hit that fell in shallow center to bring Smith around. Later in the inning, Max Martone’s two-out chopper went under the shortstop’s glove for a two-run error.
Crystal River got on the board in the top of the fourth, when Cole Baldner led off with a hustle double on a groundball to left and eventually scampered home on a wild pitch.
In the bottom of the frame, Citrus got that run back using small-ball tactics. Barroso, who worked a walk to start the inning, scored from second hustling on a sacrifice bunt by Evan Badger.
That was plenty of support for starter Ricky Gladu, who tossed his second complete game of the season, giving up just the one run on three hits and a walk, striking out five.
"Ricky went out there and did exactly what he needed to do," Thomas said. "He went right after hitters. Moved his fastball in and out, was able to throw his curveball for a strike and he kept them off-balance a little bit with a change-up.
"I was just proud of the way he went right after guys. I think he ended up 74, 75 pitches in seven innings, and that’s great as far as efficiency goes. He just went out there and did his job tonight."
"I got ahead early and then my defense played behind," Gladu said. "I just got to go get strikes early, let them swing it, let your defense work.
"It meant a lot to me. There’s a player on the other team (Baldner) that was here last year and we had to get back at him."
For the Pirates, it was the continuation of a pattern over the past seven games of a loss following a win.
"It just basically comes down to taking care of the baseball. That’s the name of the game in terms of defense," Crystal River head coach Matt Garlock. "But just letting that one go. I think our (assistant) coach made a point, when that one error happens you’ve just got to shake it off and not let it snowball out of control, and want that next one.
"It wasn’t our best effort, obviously. We had some tattooed baseballs right at some guys in the second inning that got through. Hats off to Ricky Gladu, he pitched a hell of a game in terms of getting ahead of guys, using all his pitches and keeping us off-balance. So he threw a heck of a game, and they came out to play for this one."