LECANTO — The postgame celebration was subdued. There was no huddling together for a team picture.
The hype may not have built up yet, but what coaches hope will be a new tradition finally got its start on Tuesday night at Lecanto’s baseball field. The Panthers and visiting Citrus played in the very first “Plate Game,” with the Hurricanes taking home the brand new traveling trophy following a 3-0 victory
“First annual Plate Game, it’s a good feeling,” Citrus head coach Jon Bolin said. “It’s a rivalry game. It’s good to see our kids play hard in a rivalry game like this. They were pumped up, they were excited for it.
“I hadn’t really said anything about The Plate Game all year until yesterday. It kind of pumped them up a little bit.”
Lecanto and Crystal River have the Joe D. Rigney Memorial Bat Game, an annual event started in 1991 that involves a 6-foot tall replica Louisville Slugger being passed back and forth depending on the winning team.
It made senses to the Lecanto coaching staff that there should be a similar game against their other county rival, and so they created a trophy featuring a large, flat baseball mounted on top of a giant home plate painted half green with a Lecanto logo and half black with a Citrus logo.
However, when the pandemic cut short all spring sports seasons a year ago, what was scheduled to be the first Plate Game was canceled and delayed until now.
“It’s not to that point (of The Bat Game) yet, obviously. It’s the first one. But I think it’ll get there. It’ll be something that we’ll play for, for years,” Lecanto head coach David Logue said. “It was supposed to be here last year. Our (2020) seniors didn’t get a taste of it, and their guys who graduated didn’t get a taste of it. It’ll be around. It was just something we thought up and we said, ‘Hey, let’s have something against Citrus.’ It’s fun, it’s for the kids. They shouldn’t need any extra motivation, but it’s always fun to have that to be able to put in your front office for the year and have a little bit of bragging rights over a county team.”
The ’Canes (7-7) got to carry The Plate off to their bus and back to Inverness despite being limited to two hits — a single lined to left field by Cason Williamson in the top of the fifth inning and an infield single off the leg of the pitcher hit by Mikey McSharry in the seventh.
Neither of those hits came during innings when Citrus scored its runs. In the top of the fourth, Joey Panyko, a courtesy runner for starting pitcher Tim Flippen, stole second base. A few pitches later he drew a pickoff attempt from the catcher, a throw that sailed high into center field. The center fielder then overran the ball for a second error on the play, as Panyko scored easily.
It appeared the Panthers (3-11) would answer back in the bottom of the inning, when they loaded the bases with none out thanks to a single by Tyler Carney, an error and a bunt single by Jonah Pattridge.
The next batter, trying to check his swing while getting out of the way of an inside pitch, accidently hit the ball with the knob of the bat, right back to Flippen on the mound who threw home for one out. Catcher Bryce Pixley then threw to first for a rare 1-2-3 double play.
Flippen hit the next batter, but then got a strikeout looking to end the threat.
“My slider was nasty tonight, got a lot of hitters off balance,” Flippen said. “That (double play) was huge. Getting those two crucial outs with bases loaded, and then coming back to strike that kid out, it was nice.”
That would be the last batter Flippen faced, completing four shutout innings in which he gave up two hits, hit two batters and struck out five. Lefty Cristofer Walley threw the final three innings, faced 10 batters and struck out eight of them, including the final seven.
“That was about as good as I’ve seen Flippen pitch ever,” Bolin said. “We went in with the plan that we were going to stop him at 60 pitches and come in with Walley. Sometimes you draw out a blueprint, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight it worked. Flippen was spot on and Wally was spot on, as well.”
In the top of the sixth the ’Canes scored two more without the benefit of a hit. With the bases loaded on a hit batter, walk and an intentional walk, pinch hitter Clay Cooper was hit by a pitch. Tyler Cameron then drew a walk to bring in another run.
Lecanto also only had two hits, spoiling a solid outing by Steven Sams who struck out six in five-plus innings.
“That’s our 10th loss in a row. It’s been tough. We’ve had two of our starters get injured for the season. It’s not been easy. And we’re young anyways, no seniors anyways,” Logue said. “… The one inning that we had the bases loaded the worst possible scenario happened.”