After jumping out in front with a huge third inning, the Chargers defeated the Raiders 15-2 in five innings.
Strawberry Crest made their way to Plant City last Friday night on the heels of a 9-0 loss to Plant that moved them to 2-2 on the year, facing a Raiders team that had similarly just dropped to 2-2 following a 6-4 loss to Lennard. The matchup would feature one of the better high school matchups in the nation with Plant City’s junior pitcher Chase Mobley — a hard-throwing FSU commit and one of the nation’s top high school pitchers for the class of 2024 — facing off against Strawberry Crest’s Arjun Nimmala — a fellow FSU commit that was recently listed by The Athletic’s Keith Law as the number seven prospect for the 2023 MLB Draft.
“There’s a lot of energy, definitely more than in normal games,” Crest head coach Eric Beattie said about local matchups. “They know each other, there’s a lot of good ballplayers in that dugout, there’s a lot in our dugout, so it’s always a hyped matchup.”
Mobley quickly induced a ground ball to notch the first out of the first inning when Nimmala stepped into the box and immediately ripped a first pitch fastball up the middle for a single, wasting no time moving to second with his first stolen base of the night. Another ground out to third marked the second out of the first but a ground ball from Eli Vickers squeaked through the right side of the infield, scoring Nimmala from second to give the Chargers a 1-0 lead after one. In the bottom of the first, senior Luke Richardson got the start for Crest. A leadoff single from Plant City’s Deven Gonzalez quickly got the Raiders into the hit column — stealing second to move into scoring position — but Richardson responded with three straight strikeouts to hold off the Plant City threat.
Freshman catcher Toby Highsmith led off the top of the second with an infield single for the Chargers and after a fly ball to center marked the first out of the inning, courtesy runner Reuben Vasquez stole second himself to give the Chargers another one-out scoring opportunity. Lance Highsmith worked a walk and a passed ball moved runners to second and third, still with just one out on the board, but Mobley worked out of the jam with a strikeout and a loud line out to deep center. And in the bottom of the second, Mobley wasted no time helping out his own cause with a towering home run to deep left field, knotting the game up 1-1, but that was all Richardson would allow as he added two more strikeouts throughout the second.
In the third, Crest would break the game open with a nine-run inning, starting with a strikeout of Nimmala that ultimately turned into a baserunner as the third strike made its way to the backstop letting him reach first safely. After Nimmala stole second for the second time in as many chances, junior Akhil Nimmala punched a single into left field that left runners on first and third. A bunt single from Vickers pushed a second run across for the Chargers and a walk from Jace Raburn loaded the bases. Toby Highsmith then came up big again with his second hit of the contest, a single to center scoring one run, and the throw home skipped past the catcher and to the fence, allowing another run to score — moving the Crest lead to 4-1 — and the trail runners to advance to second and third. A pair of passed balls brought both runners home, giving the Chargers a 6-1 lead, and Lance Highsmith reached on a hit by pitch with one out to put another runner aboard for Crest. As Highsmith looked to steal second, the throw down sailed into center and the junior outfielder advanced easily to third. A single into shallow center from freshman Raymond Llanes drove home Highsmith and a walk from senior Zach Redner once again put runners on first and second. A passed ball moved the runners to second and third and a base hit to the left side from Arjun Nimmala scored both, pushing the Chargers lead to 9-1 as he also advanced to second on the throw home. Arjun Nimmala was thrown out trying to steal third, the Raiders’ second out of the evening, but Akhil Nimmala tacked on one more run with a solo home run to left.
“We had a lot better at bats tonight with two strikes,” Crest head coach Eric Beattie said. “We made great in-at bat adjustments tonight that we haven’t been making. We faced an unbelievable pitcher tonight, one of the best arms in the country, so to have the offense that we did tonight was very, very promising for our guys. The base running was phenomenal all the way around.”
With a 10-1 lead in the fourth, Toby Highsmith’s third base knock of the day drove in another RBI and put the Chargers up 11-1. In the bottom of the fourth, an RBI single from Gonzalez brought the deficit to 11-2, keeping the Raiders out of 10-run rule territory for the time being, but four more runs in the top of the fifth essentially put the game away for the Chargers as Redner shut the door in the bottom half of the frame to seal the 15-2 victory.
“Luke and Zach are consistent, they work hard, they pay attention to their preparation,” Beattie said. “They’re very consistent, we know what we’re going to get from both of those guys. They came out tonight and gave us a good chance to win and our offense took advantage.”