Blooming Grove – The Italy Gladiators were winless on the season going into the Blooming Grove baseball tournament this past weekend but by the end of the two-day event, the Gladiators broke into the win column and received a plaque as well.
After dropping a 10-7 loss to Rio Vista and a 17-2 loss to Hubbard, with John Byers hitting an RBI double during Italy’s final at bat and then being knocked in by Levi McBride to give Italy their only runs against Jaguars, the Gladiators were hoping for better results in Blooming Grove.
With Ryan Connor on the mound and Tyler Vencill catching, Italy got off to good start in their morning duel against the Kerens Bobcats, with Italy jumping out to a 2-0 lead. Kerens came back to tie things up at 3-3 and eventually won 4-3 in the 5th.
After a double run down in the 4th saw Eric Carson and Ty Windham scampering back-and-forth to reach a base safe, it was Windham reaching third to represent the tying run. Carson was ruled out at first but not without controversy, of course.
Unfortunately, Windham’s teammates were unable to get him to home plate. Kyle Fortenberry closed the game for Italy from the mound but Italy’s offense was unable to rally with their last at bat, allowing the Bobcats to hold on for the 1-run win.
The Gladiators then challenged the host team but the Lions were not very gracious hosts. The Lions leapt out to a 10-2 lead. Windham started the game on the mound for Italy and Tyler Anderson took over later in the contest. John Escamilla handled the catching duties behind the plate. A late rally by the Gladiators came up short and the Lions held on for a 10-7 win. During the rally, however, Italy’s heavy hitters appeared to find their groove as Italy blasted one shot after another with Kevin Roldan, Fortenberry, Byers and McBride leading the charge.
The offensive jolt was proof that the Gladiators could be a force entering their Saturday matchup against Rice who already had a few wins this season under their caps. With Kerens dropping out of the tournament, the door was open for the Gladiators to claim the third place spot.
The Gladiators continued their hitting streak early and led 6-1 after the first-inning. This time, the Gladiators refused to relinquish their advantage and added a couple of runs late to defeat Rice 8-1.
Tyler Vencill played catcher and Tyler Anderson started on the mound for Italy. Again, Italy’s Hit-men were aggressive in this one with Byers, McBride, Vencill, Roldan, Fortenberry, Carson, Windham and Bailey Walton, Cody Boyd and Clayton Miller all leaving their mark.
Second-baseman Zain Byers punctuated Italy’s defensive effort with a diving catch into shallow center. Sophomore pitcher Ryan Connor served as closer and rather matter-of-factly helped secure Italy’s first win of the season with the Gladiators and head coach Jon Cady and assistant coaches Brandon Ganske and Jackie Cate being presented a 3rd place plaque immediately following the game.
Collectively, Italy’s pitching staff made a strong showing throughout tournament play and outfielders Carson and McBride made amazing diving catches. Along with Fortenberry, Boyd and Connor, Italy’s outfield earned high marks for their efforts. Roldan was reliable at first-base as was Walton. Clayton Miller made plays in the infield as did Windham when at third. John Byers is becoming more comfortable in his role as shortstop. John Escamilla and Tyler Vencill are committed to perfecting their craft as catchers. Freshman talent Kenneth Norwood, Jr., rounds out Italy’s arsenal as a consistent hitter.