By: J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
Sophomore Nick Palmi hit a second inning grand slam to lead the Osceola Kowboys to a 7-1 win over Harmony in the championship game of the Orange Belt Conference baseball tournament.
With previously champions determined from the results of round robin play, the week-long OBC tournament was the first baseball tournament in conference history and the Kowboys dominated the event by out-scoring opponents, 31-2, in three games – including a 15-0 win over Poinciana in Monday’s quarterfinal and a 9-1 win over Tohopekaliga in Wednesday’s semifinal.
The Kowboys took a 1-0 lead in the first inning of the title game, as Danny Ramirez doubled home Luis Rodriguez. But the main damage came in the second. With one on and two outs, Lamar Vazquez pushed a single into the hole between short and third. Isaiah Jean-Baptiste would then draw a walk on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases before Palmi sent a blast off starting pitcher Conner Davis over the right field walk to make it 5-0.
While Osceola was getting some timely hitting, Ramirez and relief pitcher Antonio Melendez were keeping the Harmony hitters in check – combining on a three-hitter. Only a Ramirez wild pitch in the fifth inning that scored a run from third kept the Kowboys from recording a shutout.
Although Osceola Coach Scott Birchler said Ramirez did “not have his best stuff,” the senior right-hander did more than enough to push his record to 4-0 on the season. He allowed just two hits and retired 12 of the first 14 batters he faced. Ramirez walked just one and struck out six. “Danny made them put the ball in play and then allowed his defense to do the rest for him,” Birchler added.
With the Kowboys tacking on insurance runs in the third and fifth, Melendez was shutting the door after replacing Ramirez in the sixth. He retired five of the eight batters he faced – including striking out the side in the seventh inning to end the game.
After starting the season with a 6-4 record, the win was Osceola’s seventh in a row and lifted them to 13-4 on the year. “We’ve been getting some timely hitting, good pitching and playing some solid defense the last couple of weeks. When you do that, you have a chance to win some games,” Birchler added. “Right now we are getting some consistency in all three phases and it’s something we will look to carry over to the final third of the regular season.”
With the loss, Harmony fell to 7-9 but still had a solid tournament with wins over Gateway (13-4) and St. Cloud (4-3) in the first two rounds.
Tohopekaliga (6-5) finished third in the tournament by beating St. Cloud, 4-0, in the consolation round final. The Tigers managed only one hit in the game but scored four unearned runs and shut out the Bulldogs.
Upset in the first round by St. Cloud (5-2), Liberty rallied back with wins over Poinciana and Celebration (10-5) to take fifth place in the tournament.
2022 Orange Belt Conference
Osceola 15, Poinciana 0
Harmony 13, Gateway 4
St. Cloud 5, Liberty 3
Tohopekaliga 3, Celebration 0
Osceola 9, Tohopekaliga 1
Harmony 4, St. Cloud 3
Osceola 7, Harmony 1
Tohopekaliga 4, St. Cloud 0