LECANTO — For a Seven Rivers Christian team used to competing at or near the top of its classification, the challenges of this season have put the Warriors in an unaccustomed position.
That’s quite literal for several players who find themselves in different spots defensively.
“We started the season with six starters from last year’s squad out, due to injuries, grades, whatever it may be,” Seven Rivers head coach Travis Phillips said. “About four of our pitchers that we expected to be in the rotation have been out. Two of them are gone for good. The rest of them we’ve just had to piece together.
“… And our schedule is brutal. We haven’t faced a team that’s our size yet. All big schools. I expected to have a team to make a run this year and injuries, whatever it may be, it just hasn’t worked out because we just haven’t had the kids on the field.”
Even at full strength the Warriors would have had their hands full on Thursday night, hosting one of the better teams in the state at Warrior Park. Montverde Academy, a traditionally strong independent school that boasts New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor as it tops alumni, handed Seven Rivers a 14-0 defeat in a game ended after five innings.
“They lost to the No. 1 team, IMG, by a run or two (4-2 on April 8). They’re a top-10 program in the country. I’m not at all disappointed,” Phillips said. “I don’t like moral victories but 14-0 to Montverde given our situation, we’re kind of slowly heading in the right direction. I can’t complain.”
The Eagles (11-5) began to assert themselves with back-to-back home runs by their No. 8 and 9 hitters in the top of the second inning. Japhet Rosado smashed a two-run shot to left field and Eric Correa followed with a solo homer to right-center, building a 4-0 advantage.
Montverde added three more in the third, aided by three walks, and scored four times in the fourth, including a two-run double the lefty Correa lined off the right-field fence. He had a sacrifice fly in the third and finished 2 for 2 with four RBI.
Catcher Salvador Alvarez, batting seventh, went 3 for 3 with a sacrifice fly, finishing with three RBI, and Rosado was 2 for 2 with a bases-loaded walk, driving in three runs. Combined the last three hitters in the Eagles’ starting lineup were 7 for 7 with a walk, two sac flies and 10 RBI.
That was plenty of support for hard-throwing lefty Matthew Heyl, who tossed a complete game in five innings, giving up a single to Brook Weed in the first and a walk to Hunter Looper in the fourth. He struck out five.
“Those (pitchers for Seven Rivers), one’s an eighth-grader and one’s a 10th-grader,” Phillips said. “We really didn’t have an arm available, an upperclassman to pitch tonight.
“… Also, Montverde sees 90 (mph) every night. Every team they face throws their ace and also thought that chucking butterflies at them might keep them at bay for a little while; 14-0 is not great, it could have been a whole lot worse.”
Looper, a senior catcher, has been a bright spot for the Warriors (4-10), hitting a team-leading .486 with five doubles, three home runs, 11 runs scored and eight RBI coming into Thursday’s game. Sophomore Clayton Chestnut and senior Cam Herrin have taken on the bulk of the mound work trying to hold together the depleted pitching staff.
Prior to this game, Seven Rivers had won three out of five and lost just 5-4 at South Sumter on Tuesday.
“We came to the last at-bat against South Sumter and we actually out-hit them the other night,” Phillips said. “Given where we’re at just pitching-wise and injuries and everything else, we are slowly heading in the right direction. If we can get the bats that we do need to go and get on the field with teams that are our size, we’ll be fairly competitive.
“We’ve had quite a few kids playing out of position. It’s not their fault, it’s all we can do with a small squad, a small school. … We can swing a little bit. We have a little bit of offense that will help us. If we can throw some strikes, keep us in the game and minimize our errors like every coach preaches, we’ll be OK. We have the makings of that. We could use a little bit of luck as far as health.”