Big performances by Smith, Madl help Hawks reach fourth straight district title game
Viera blows open close game to beat Sebastian River 8-1
Viera High's JT Smith delivers an RBI double in the bottom of the third inning to give the Hawks their first run of the night in Tuesday's Class 7A, District 6 semifinal against Sebastian River. Smith would have two doubles and three RBIs on the night as Viera won 8-1 to reach the title game for the fourth straight season.
JT Smith has seen his playing time for the Viera Hawks increase quite a bit lately.
And the junior center fielder certainly made it pay off Tuesday night.
Smith went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and three RBIs as the Hawks defeated Sebastian River 8-1 in the semifinals of the Class 7A, District 6 tournament at the USSSA Space Coast Complex.
Viera (19-7) will face Melbourne (18-7) for the district championship Thursday night at 7, also at the USSSA Space Coast Complex. The Hawks have now made the district final for four straight years.
“That was a very good game,” Hawks coach Bob Doty said. “Sebastian River played a very good game. We had not seen that right-hander (freshman Zachary Santiso). … That guy was outstanding.
“But our guys battled. We put together a couple of runs in the third. JT Smith came up with a big hit.”
The Hawks were hitless going into the bottom of the third until Edian Espinal came through with a one-out bunt single. Smith then doubled him home to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.
Viera would get two in the third to get the early advantage. After Sebastian River got a run in the top of the fourth to make it a 2-1 game, the Hawks would get a run in the fifth and then blew it open with five runs in the bottom of the sixth.
Smith would add another double, this time driving in two runs, in the sixth.
“I’m definitely better on the defensive side of things rather than the offensive (side),” Smith said. “I’m still working. I had a good night tonight. I was seeing the ball (well).”
Smith was inserted into the starting lineup five games ago following an injury to senior Joe Veltri and has given the Hawks a big lift in center field, with Declan McDermott in left field and Luke Brown in right.
“He’s just such a great defensive player,” Doty said of Smith. “His bat really came through tonight. Defensively, we’re playing pretty well out there right now. We struggled a little bit early in the year. Basically, our outfield was all catchers and infielders.
“They hadn’t played much in the outfield, but we wanted to get them in the lineup offensively.”
In addition to Smith’s night, the Hawks also got a strong offensive performance from Connor Leary, who went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. Alan Espinal was 1-for-4 with two RBIs. Zach Taylor also had a double.
On the mound, Jake Moldrem went 3 2/3 innings to get the win with some strong relief help from Tyler Madl.
“He comes in and throws strikes,” Smith said of Madl. “His off-speed stuff was on tonight. It was falling off the table. I think he did a really good job.”
One of the best parts of the night for Madl was that he ended the game with a double play ball which cut down the number of pitches he had throw Tuesday night. That means he will be available to pitch against Melbourne on Thursday if needed.
“He’s one of those guys who has a great change-up and a breaking pitch and he’s left-handed,” Doty said. “That’s how you get good hitters out a lot of times. I thought Moldrem did a good job (too).”
The Hawks, who have now won four of their last five games, are in good shape going into the district final knowing they will advance to the Class 7A regional playoffs.
“We’re pretty hot right now,” Smith said. “We’re seeing pretty good teams. I think we’re going to keep it going.”
Viera knows Thursday matchup with Melbourne with a tough one. It always is. The two teams split their regular-season matchups.
“It’s (always) a good game,” Smith said. “We’re going to have a lot of people here.”