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North drops regional baseball tournament opener, 4-0

Fort Myers avenges loss in district final

By CJ HADDAD - | May 11, 2022

North senior Aiden Denlinger delivers a pitch Tuesday during the Red Knights' 4-0 loss to Fort Myers in the opening round of the FHSAA 5A State Championship CJ HADDAD

While North Fort Myers High School’s baseball season came to an end Tuesday night, it was certainly a season to remember.

The Red Knights (14-12) dropped their FHSAA 5A-4 regional tournament opener 4-0 to Fort Myers (21-6) in a game that played out over the final two innings.

A scoreless bout heading into the top half of the sixth, the Green Wave worked their walks and cashed in on a timely hit, scoring three runs and tacking on another in the seventh to advance in the tournament.

The Red Knights got a great outing from starter Aiden Denlinger, but were unable to convert early scoring chances into runs. Fort Myers’ senior starter Jacob D’Altrui tossed five innings of shutout ball, and senior Anthony Franco came in for two innings of scoreless relief.

Despite the loss, North captured the District Championship just days prior, defeating the same Fort Myers team. It was the first district crown for the Red Knight baseball program since 2002.

“It was a really good season,” said North head coach Mark Rose. “We had some hiccups and some team chemistry things that we had to ironed out. But then we started working back and got going again.”

The Red Knights started off the season on a scorching pace, going 9-2 over their first 11. Things took a turn following spring tournament play, where they did pull out a victory against a talented Key West Team before finishing the year 3-10 that started with a tough 13-inning loss to IMG.

North bounced back and took down the Green Wave 7-2 in the 5A-13 district final, but dropped the rematch at home.

The Red Knights had scoring opportunities in both the first and third innings, having men on second and third each time, but could not push a run across.

“We had control of the game,” Rose said. “We were leading on baserunners. We were leading on hits. We were leading on everything.”

They say nothing good comes from leadoff walks, and that’s exactly what happened to North in the sixth.

Fort Myers’ Zachary Root drew a free pass, Brighton Edsell laid down a bunt that could not be fielded, and D’Altrui worked a walk of his own to load the bases with no outs. Rose came and got Denlinger, and in came freshman Matthew Blasnea to try and work out of the jam.

Blasnea, who had the right stuff in North’s past two victories, was unable to get out of the disadvantageous situation unscathed. Green Wave catcher Ethan Monrad singled up the middle with the infield in that scored two runs, and two batters later, Madrid Tucker drew a bases-loaded walk to bring in another. Edsell scored Fort Myers’ fourth run on a passed ball in the seventh.

“It’s a big deal for us,” said Fort Myers head coach Kyle Burchfield of the win. “We knew we did not play our best game (in the district championship). We did a great job tonight. The past couple weeks we’ve been struggling with the bats and getting hits … but we got the big hits when we needed to.”

The free passes really hurt the Red Knights in this one, as the pitching staff issued a total of eight walks — five of those coming in the final two innings.

Denlinger, a senior, kept his team in the game over five-plus innings, allowing just one hit, striking out five, walking five and being charged with three runs.

“The last couple of starts he’s been fantastic,” Rose said. “When he’s on, he’s one of the best guys in the area.”

Rose said this year’s senior class has been a memorable one, and that it was because of their leadership and presence that they were able to capture their first district title in 20 years.

“We did everything off of the back of the senior class, and I told them (winning districts is something) nobody is going to take away, “ Rose said, giving praise to Logan Smith, Gavin House, Justin Corbit, Denlinger, Riley Reed, Dylan Mercer and Donald Woelke. “It’s something they got to experience with each other, and I love that. We still have a good core left, but we’re definitely going to miss those guys.”

Fort Myers will take on American Heritage (25-1) on the road Thursday in a 5A-4 Region semifinal.

— Connect with Associate Sports Editor CJ Haddad on Twitter: @haddad_cj