Dix

Crystal River starting pitcher Caleb Dix reacts Friday after striking out the side in the top of the first inning against Dunnellon to escape a bases-loaded jam. Dix finished the game with 10 strikeouts, but the Pirates dropped their season opener, 7-4.

CRYSTAL RIVER — After two straight rainouts to begin the regular season, the Crystal River baseball team finally got on the field Friday night.

The Pirates were six outs away from knocking off defending district champ Dunnellon, when they lost control, of both the strike zone and the game. They issued 11 walks and hit four batters overall, leading to a 7-4 loss to the rival Tigers at Mike Hampton Field.

“Like I told our guys and I’m just going to be flat-out honest with everyone: Crystal River lost this game tonight, Dunnellon didn’t win the game,” said Devin Dominguez, making his official debut as Crystal River head coach. “Our guys believe that. They know that they can come back out here with a better effort, and I’m looking forward to seeing how these guys bounce back because we have a district game coming up on Tuesday (against Weeki Wachee). We have no time to pout around, mope around over one game.

“We can very easily still go ahead and do tremendously well in the district, set ourselves up, and be where we need to be at the end.”

The Pirates (0-1, 0-1 District 6A-6) were rained out at The Villages on Tuesday and at Tavares on Wednesday, turning their home opener into their season opener versus the Tigers (2-0, 1-0 6A-6), an Elite Eight team in 2018.

The top of the first inning was the definition of an inauspicious start for Crystal River, with the first three Dunnellon batters reaching base on a walk, a single and a hit by pitch. Yet starter Caleb Dix dug in and fanned the next three hitters to escape trouble.

Dix proceeded to help his own cause in the bottom half, as the senior laced a single past the shortstop into left field for a two-out RBI.

In the second, the Tigers scored twice without the benefit of a hit, a reoccurring theme throughout the game. After three walks loaded the bases with two away, a free pass to Jay Fraziars tied the score. Jon Santiago was then plunked to make it 2-1.

Seth Purnell’s double to right-center pushed across the tying run in the bottom of the third, and Lane Ewing raced home on a wild pitch to give the Pirates a 3-2 advantage in the fourth.

Ewing also had a big moment on the mound, taking over following a leadoff walk and a two-base error on a pickoff throw to strike out the side in the top of the fifth. Dix had gone the first four innings, striking out 10 while giving up just one hit, though he issued six walks and hit two batters.

But Crystal River couldn’t survive the top of the sixth. The tying run scored when Fraziars was hit for the third time, including twice in his first at-bat when he was called back for not making an effort to get out of the way.

Santiago hit a grounder that the second baseman could only throw to first, bringing the go-ahead run across, and a wild pitch on a strikeout allowed another Tiger to come home.

Tommy Weber was hit by a pitch with the bases full, then Kenny Richardson walked to complete the five-run outburst featuring just one single.

“I keep my guys to high expectations,” Dominguez said. “With us struggling to throw strikes, obviously I’m disappointed. But more than that, the kids are also disappointed in themselves, as well. They know that they’re better.”

There was one last rally in the bottom of the seventh. The Pirates loaded the bases and scored one when Ewing beat out a potential game-ending, double-play grounder.

Purnell went 2-for-4 with the RBI double, reaching base three times, and Dix was also on three times with a single and two walks.

“People that were here knew this was a one-run game. The final score doesn’t dictate how close this game really was,” Dominguez said. “We lost this one.”

Contact Chronicle sports reporter Chris Bernhardt at 352-563-5660, chris.bernhardt@chronicleonline.com or on twitter @cpbernhardtjr.

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