They came to Play: Ridge Point sweeps Strake Jesuit, advances to state
HOUSTON—Ridge Point baseball coach Clint Welch is not one for pep talks.
“I have a one-sentence message I give every game, and I won’t repeat right now, but we preach that if you need a pep talk, then you don’t need to be playing,” Welch said.
So the Panthers play on.
Senior shortstop Justin Vossos’ two-out RBI triple in the seventh inning was the go-ahead winner and senior right-hander Hunter Nichols pitched a complete-game gem as Ridge Point topped defending regional champ Strake Jesuit, 2-1, on Friday in Game 2 of their Region III-6A final at University of Houston’s Don Sanders Field at Darryl & Lori Schroeder Park to book the Panthers’ second trip to state since 2019.
“I don’t give pep talks,” Welch said. “Our guys don’t need one. They come to play.”
\u201cRIDGE POINT!!! Panthers return to state for the second time in three seasons. @VossosJustin with the winning RBI 3B. Ridge Point sweeps Strake Jesuit in Region 3-6A final. Wins Game 2, 2-1. #txhsbaseball @FBISDAthletics @RPHSBaseball @RPHS_Panthers @KPRC2\u201d— VYPE Houston (@VYPE Houston) 1654309329
For a few precious moments after Nichols struck out James Rheaume swinging to ignite raucous celebration, Welch watched his team revel in accomplishment.
“Right now, the feeling is happiness for the players,” Welch said. “The playoffs are a grind in high school baseball. Five weeks of just grind and work. You get in high-pressure situations. You get behind a lot. Emotions go back and forth. So, our boys did a great job of handling that and staying even-keel.”
The series was played as expected. Pitching and defense were impressive from both teams. There were as many strikeouts (21) as hits, and only nine walks, between the two teams in the two games.
Ridge Point took Game 1, 3-0, on Thursday on the back of a masterful complete-game shutout by junior Kellen Gradisar.
Friday, Ridge Point struck first in the third inning when Vossos scored on a throwing error by the Strake Jesuit first baseman. The Crusaders evened things to lead off their frame in the sixth when Trey Duffield smashed a home run to deep left.
In the seventh, Ridge Point did an admirable job manufacturing opportunity for Vossos.
Will Baker, the No. 7 hitter in the lineup, drew a lead-off walk. Zion Stephens hit into a fielder’s choice. Pinch hitter Theron Michalis struck out.
That’s when Vossos strolled to the plate. Strake Jesuit’s Kade Baron threw six pickoff attempts in Vossos’ at-bat, which went as follows: pickoff attempt, pickoff attempt, strike one, ball one, pickoff attempt, pickoff attempt, strike two, ball two, pickoff attempt, ball three, foul ball, pickoff attempt, triple.
On a 3-2 count with two outs, Vossos hammered a fastball to left center to score Stephens, who had stolen second after Baron’s fifth pickoff attempt.
“Shoutout to Kade, man,” Vossos said. “That’s my best friend. I’ve known him forever. He was up there trying to ruin our tempo, pick-off a lot, and I tried to stay focused every pitch. He blew two fastballs past me. He threw it again, so I got my pitch, shortened up and put it in play.”
\u201c.@VossosJustin two-out RBI triple regains the lead for @RPHSBaseball, 2-1. #txhsbaseball @FBISDAthletics @RPHS_Panthers\u201d— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1654308718
It was central casting from the baseball gods. Vossos is the only Panther on the current roster that played on the 2019 state finalist. As a freshman then, he led the team in hitting during the postseason.
“Their No. 1 hitter (Duffield) stepped up and got a huge clutch home run and then our No. 1 guy, our leader, answered,” Welch said. “Justin was aggressive. He got locked in and squared up that last one. That was awesome.”
From there, Nichols did the rest, putting the finishing touches on a brilliant outing in which 74 of 114 pitches went for strikes.
In Strake Jesuit’s bottom half of the seventh, Colin Sloan flew out to right fielder Owen Farris, who made an incredible play, getting a great jump and taking a smart angle, on a hard-hit ball that Welch figured Farris had no chance of getting to.
“Most people will not remember that,” Welch said of Ferris’ heroics. “But we will.”
Harrison Acquaro singled in the next at-bat. Nichols struck out Nick Sullo on four pitches. And then he took down Rheaume on six pitches.
Nichols surrendered one run on five hits, striking out 10 and walking two over seven innings of work.
“I wanted the moment,” said Nichols, whose potent early curveball helped set up his fastball. “I was ready for it, and I knew I had to pitch a good game. I tried to keep the nerves down. Keep calm and collected. I had to make good pitches and get outs, and I was thankfully able to do that with the defense behind me.”
\u201c.@RPHSBaseball senior RHP @HunterN913 discusses today\u2019s 2-1 Game 2 Region 3-6A final win that advances the Panthers to state. Nichols threw a complete-game gem, striking out 10 & allowing one run on five hits. #txhsbaseball @FBISDAthletics @RPHS_Panthers @RP_PantherPride @KPRC2\u201d— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1654311296
Nichols said the Panthers knew from the beginning they had what it took to get to state. They just had to play to their potential.
“The pitching has been incredible,” Welch said. “The number of complete games and the innings these guys have ate up to stay within the pitch count rules … unbelievable. We got clutch hits up and down the lineup in these five weeks. It’s been fun. Each week that goes by, the excitement just grows for them.”
And so the 35-5 Panthers, an unsuspecting group of gritty competitors who know nothing more than to battle and fight for every pitch and at-bat, move on, having earned the right to play one more week as part of Class 6A’s final four.
“It’s exciting,” Vossos said. “We’ve worked for this all year, and it’s exciting to see these guys come together. You love to see everyone battling in a close game and all the excitement when we get that last out. Incredible feeling.”