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Lakewood Ranch blanks Venice 1-0 to win District title
Written by Doug Fernandes and Dennis Maffezzoli on May5, 2023 | Herald-Tribune

Mustangs use a first-inning run shutout pitching from Vaillancourt and Dement to blank Venice to capture their first district title since 2018

Lakewood Ranch 1, Venice 0

During both games this week, Cole Dement has been in the Lakewood Ranch High bullpen waiting for the call on the walkie-talkie. 

Dement got the nod Thursday night, and the senior right-handed pitcher was fired up for his opportunity. 

Entering with the bases full and two outs in a one-run game, Dement threw three straight fastballs to get a strikeout and get the Mustangs out of the jam.

“I felt like it was the right time,” Lakewood Ranch coach Colton Chupp said. “I thought it was a good time for a change of speed.”

Dement worked around a two-out hit by pitch in the seventh to seal Lakewood Ranch’s 1-0 victory over Venice High and the Mustangs’ first district championship since 2018.

“I was told ‘You’ve got to get hot.’ And I just started getting amped up and amped up and the adrenaline was flowing,” Dement said.

He brought his nervous energy to the game mound.

“It just felt amazing to get out of that inning,” said Dement, who let out a scream after strike three. “It was definitely good to get out here. I was completely nervous. It just felt amazing to get out of that inning, especially the jam.

“But I’ve got to give all credit to Alex.”

Alex Vaillancourt, a junior right-hander, started for the Mustangs and was brilliant. He pitched 5 ⅔ innings, scattering six hits while walking one and striking out two.

“He battled and battled,” Dement said. “He’s been doing that the whole season.”

“He dealt,” Chupp said of Vaillancourt. “He’s done well all season. He throws strikes, gets outs, exactly what you need.”

All was needed since the Mustangs (18-7) scored a run in the first inning. Lochlan Radloff, who pitched a complete game in the 2-1 semifinal win over Gulf Coast on Tuesday, led off with a double. Carter Sprague sacrificed Radloff to third. Ryan Kaitz then hit a double to the left-center field gap for what proved to be the winning run.

“Pitching, defense and timely hitting,” Chupp said before he was doused with a bucket of red Gatorade. “It was a great win all around. I’m just looking forward to the next game.”

The question remains will there be a next game for Venice?

Venice (15-13) came in as the 12th-ranked team in Class 7A-Region 2 and needs to jump teams to get to at least the eighth seed when the pairings are announced Friday afternoon.

“We have no idea,” Venice coach Craig Faulkner said. “We won a lot of games against a lot of big teams, but it’s been so long since the FHSAA updated them. We may be in; we may not. We hope we are.”

One reason the Venice offense did not score was it hit too many balls in the air. Fourteen outs came on fly balls or popups to go along with four strikeouts and three ground outs.

“We didn’t make them field the ball on the ground,” Faulkner said. “Basically, we hit too many fly balls. Fly balls really killed us tonight.”

Venice had six hits, two came with two outs in the second inning. Two more came in the sixth. Jon Embury hit a one-out double and went to third on Trent Adrian’s single off Vaillancourt. David Dubrule walked with two outs before Dement entered the game to get the final out. 

“Today and Tuesday we faced some great competition,” Dement said. “Everyone competed. All of us pulled together and got some big-time hits. It was a great team win.”

The No. 1 seed in the district lived up to its billing.

“This was our first goal of the season,” said Chupp, who never won a district title as a player at Lakewood Ranch. 

The Mustangs have won three straight, five of six and 12 of 14.

“At the beginning of the year everyone overlooked us and said we were a little bit of a toxic group. Not a bunch of people liked us,” Dement said. “We pulled through. Coming in this as a one seed, I pounded on our guys not to overlook the competition. We beat both the teams we played in our district and we didn’t want to overlook them. We didn’t want to get too cocky. We ended up in the right position.”

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