Ending strong is the motto for the Florence Township Memorial High School baseball team.
With high school baseball teams concluding the regular season this week, the Flashes will finish the year with a record under .500, but Florence coach Kyle Ballay saw his team improve in more ways than one off the scoreboard.
After a 4-0 victory at home over Riverside High School on May 9, Ballay was pleased by his team’s determination to compete in the later part of the season.
Prior to the Riverside matchup, the Florence coach said he had urged his team let go of past defeats and focus on the latter part of the remaining schedule.
“The message out there is that even though we struggled and we hadn’t performed the way we had hoped for a large chunk of the season, we had a talk a few games ago and said, ‘Let’s start a new season now,’” Ballay said. “We cannot control anything that happened [earlier this year], but we want to finish the season strong, start a new season today and just go with that mentality from here on out.”
Following his message to the team, Ballay said he noticed a difference in the team’s demeanor on the field.
“The past few games, they have come out with more energy and have been more positive and really feeling it to carry that into the rest of the season,” Ballay said.
That energy is what carried the Flashes to victory over Riverside.
Payne Walachy shined on the mound when he pitched a complete game. He allowed two hits, struck out 12 and did not issue a walk.
With Walachy nabbing his eighth total career win at Florence following his performance over Riverside, head coach Ballay had one word to describe his ace on the mound.
That super effort resulted in Walachy’s eighth career victory at Florence.
Ballay described the performance as one of the best he has witnessed in his coaching years at Florence.
“[Walachy] got ahead [in the count] and threw every single one of his pitches for strikes pretty much whenever he wanted. He didn’t allow a free base. He didn’t walk or hit anyone,” he said. “He went after guys and hit his spots. It was honestly one of the most impressive pitching performances I have seen since I have been here. He was just in the zone all day.”
Following his big day on the mound, Walachy felt he was in a groove from the get-go, which he said had been consistent with his recent performances in contrast to the beginning of spring.
“From the start, I get in a zone where I block out everything besides myself,” Walachy said. “I was feeling it on the mound today. I found my rhythm here later in the season. I wish I found [my rhythm] in the beginning [of the year], but it wasn’t working out too well. But as time progressed, I found it and produced today.”
Even though a lone run would have been enough to back up Walachy’s solid effort, his offense provided him with solid at-bats.
Center fielder John Woolston, third baseman Shane Fajgier, designated hitter Ben Arnold, and shortstop Osmar Quinones each scored a run.
Woolston set the tone for the game as he cracked leadoff double in the first inning. First baseman Joe Brunner then connected for an extra-base to bring Woolston across the plate.
Catcher Jarrod Marshall finished the game with two RBI while Woolston and Brunner drove in a run apiece. Woolston’s standout day at the plate caught the attention of his coach.
Woolston reached base in all three of his plate appearances. He recorded a double, a single and reached base in the fourth inning after he took a pitch to his batting helmet.
Hitting from the one-hole, Ballay said Woolston did exactly what was requested of him at the top of the lineup.
“That’s why [Woolston] is there. That’s why he is in the leadoff spot. He has speed, a little bit of pop in his bat and he can hit the ball,” he said. “He is not always necessarily getting straight line drives every single at-bat, but he finds a way to get on base, which is exactly what we need. He gets on base and makes stuff happen from there because he has speed. Having a guy [like Woolston] that can get on base consistently and score runs is huge.”
As Florence closed out the regular season with an away game against Medford Technical High School on May 15, Walachy felt the team’s fervor toward the end of spring helped them finish on a high note.
“In the beginning [of the season], we weren’t the best. We did not have the right enthusiasm and our team wasn’t into every game from the start, but as the season progressed, we gathered up the energy we needed to start getting wins,” Walachy said. “We looked at our record and at it wasn’t where we wanted it to be, but now we caught fire at the right moment.”