Marco Island Academy’s 10-9 home loss to Immokalee Thursday evening featured drama to the very end. The game was finally decided by a bang-bang play at the plate. And when the dust settled, the MIA baserunner was called out and the Immokalee team celebrated wildly. Rays players, meanwhile, stood in stunned silence as their third rally of the game ended so suddenly.
“That was a close one,” said Saul Sotolongo, the Rays’ even-keeled first year manager. “I always feel that a play at the plate – especially at the end of the game – is a 50-50 chance. We could have got the run there. It came down to where the ump had to make a judgment call and that’s when it’s 50-50. Whether he calls it an out or calls him safe,” Sotolongo chuckled.
The Rays, 2-3, dropped a game to Dunbar last week, 8-7, in similar fashion.
“Our game against Dunbar kind of went the same way,” Sotolongo said, “a back-and-forth battle. Those are tough. It just comes down to who makes the least mistakes.”
Sotolongo is impressed with how his team fights back.
“They’re a scrappy bunch,” Sotolongo said. “They will fight back. This game was typical of the kind of baseball these kids are playing this year. In every game we’ve been in they fight all the way to the end. That’s all you can really ask for as a coach.”
Immokalee jumped out to a 5-1 lead before the Rays rallied with two runs in the bottom of the third inning to make it 5-3. The Indians put up three more runs in the top of the fourth, just to see MIA rally back with four runs of their own in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to 8-7. A key hit was a two-RBI single by junior Joe Reisinger.
Immokalee added two more runs in the top of the fifth inning, but the Rays refused to fold.
In the sixth inning, senior Johnny Watt got things going with a bunt single and Reisinger knocked in another run with a single. At the end of six innings, the Rays trailed 10-9.
“They will fight back,” Sotolongo said. “They’ve been down before, and we’ve come back. They’re a good bunch.”
With two out in the bottom of the seventh and final inning, with Reisinger on third base, the ball was hit sharply, and Reisinger raced for home plate. Diving headfirst, Reisinger kicked up a huge plume of dust as he and the ball arrived at the plate at the same time. The umpire called Reisinger out as dust remained thick in the air. Reisinger lay face down in the dirt as the game came to a close.
“You’ve gotta take it, move on,” Sotolongo said, “and try to learn from it. We can keep ourselves from being in that position too often. Get the lead from the get-go.”
Immokalee, a Class 5A opponent, improves to 4-5 with the win. The Rays compete in Class 2A.
Sotolongo lists his three seniors, Johnny Watt, Tyler Chute and Allan Borges as his leaders.
“We have three seniors,” Sotolongo said. “They’re keeping everything in line. Helping out.”
The manager also likes the youth in his lineup.
“We have a good mix,” Sotolongo said. “All grade levels and all skill levels. I think of how quickly they’ve all advanced as players. We’ve been practicing with them since January and each week they get better. That’s the hard work they’re putting in. They’re putting in the hard effort and it shows. We start a freshman at shortstop, Ryan Sweeney. It’s great being able to have a freshman shortstop. There’s probably a lot of room for growth when he’s able to start as a freshman. Our guy who made the last play at home, Joe Reisinger, he’s a great utility guy. I can put him about anywhere and he gets the job done. He’s also a catcher. He’s played a little at third.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of these guys,” Sotolongo said with a smile.
Sotolongo feels he’s been blessed with a solid coaching staff.
“We have a couple great assistant coaches,” he said. “Tim Coyle, Shaun Chute, Jim Watt and Erik Johnson…it’s not just me. I have a lot of help. That usually makes the difference when you have a lot of other guys helping you out that you can count on.”
MIA has a long break before they face Immokalee again on March 24 at Immokalee.