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Rukes’ Shutout Paces Pine Crest Past Chaminade

Pine Crest starter Garret Rukes tossed six scoreless innings with six strikeouts on Saturday.

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Saturday’s effort was exactly what the Pine Crest baseball team is looking for. Inconsistency has dogged the Panthers all season long. In the HSBN Broward Game of the Week at Chaminade-Madonna Saturday afternoon, Pine Crest put it all together to deliver a nice team effort that led to a 6-0 victory over the host Lions.

“The way to consistently win baseball games is good pitching, good defense and timely hitting. We did all three of those today,” Pine Crest Manager Wayne Stofsky said.

Pine Crest picked up an important District 4A-14 win, improving to 4-3 in the district and 5-4 overall. It remains in the hunt for a top seed in a very competitive district.

As is often the case in baseball, everything started with the pitching. Panthers’ lefty Garret Rukes filled up the strike zone and kept the Chaminade batters in check, tossing nearly four perfect frames before surrendering a double down the third base line off the bat of Aaron Antonini. Rukes went six full innings on just 84 pitches to earn the victory.

“I was feeling pretty good when I warmed up, and I had a decent amount of time off coming into the game. So I knew I would be good to go,” Rukes said. “Early on I definitely had command of all of my pitches, and everything felt great. Any district win is huge, and we are really going to try and capitalize on this to keep it moving forward and hopefully string a few more wins together.”

The southpaw struck out six while allowing just two hits and two walks. Reliever Tom Walker then did the rest to finish off the shutout with a perfect 1-2-3 seventh inning.

The Pine Crest defense also came up with some big plays to do its part. After Lions shortstop Mike Drag led off the fifth by lining a single to center, left fielder Aram Leighton chased down a shot from Austin Gomez and made an impressive diving catch to rob the hit and force Drag to retreat back to first base. In the sixth shortstop Zack Kone snared a line drive from Antonini and then fired back to first base to double off a runner and end the inning. Second baseman Charlie Luciano also made a nice play to track down a blooper to the shallow right field corner to rob a hit from Rolando Pettit in the third.

Griffin Conine slugged a solo home run in the fifth, and also walked twice and scored twice for Pine Crest.

“It definitely takes a lot off of you knowing you have guys behind you that are not only going to make the routine plays, but go a little extra and make really good plays. It’s just awesome and it makes my job a lot easier,” said Rukes.

The offense supplied key hits to round out the Pine Crest performance. While the Panthers managed only five hits, they made each of them count. Jordan Schulefand reached on an infield single in the first, moved to second on a walk to Griffin Conine and then both runners advanced on a wild pitch. Michael Rothenberg pushed Schulefand home on an infield ground out to the right side to account for all the runs Pine Crest would ultimately need.

The Panthers padded that lead in the third. Luciano led off with a walk and then stole second base to get into scoring position. Luciano then got into perfect synch with Schulefand, as he displayed nice, aggressive base running to round third and score after Schulefand sat back on a pitch and drove a hard single up the middle on a hit-and-run. Rothenberg plated his center fielder again, this time on a bloop single to left field.

Conine also scored in the third, after drawing a walk and coming home when Rukes reached on an error. The right fielder’s biggest contribution came in his next at bat, when Conine blasted a 1-1 offering high and deep over the right field fence for a solo home run that left no doubt the minute the bat made contact with the ball.

Cameron Andros added an RBI single that drove in Ravi Bakhai to complete the scoring in the fifth.

“It starts on the mound, and especially with our team,” Stofsky said. “Garret’s our horse and he went out and did the job, and Tom Walker just keeps getting stronger and stronger behind him. He is turning into a pretty good pitcher. We had two big defensive plays with a nice diving catch and a double play, and we had timely hits. We didn’t get a lot of hits, but they came at the right time.”

With three games scheduled in the week ahead, Pine Crest looks to carry some momentum into that action. Meanwhile, The Lions dropped to 4-5 overall and 1-5 in the district. Chaminade next takes the field on Wednesday against district foe Somerset Academy, before heading out of town for a pair of weekend games at Lake Highland Prep and Wekiva.

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