Sickles’ Fikar shows his grit in closing effort

Three days after a scary collision broke Luke Fikar’s nose and ended the season of teammate Hayden Yost, Fikar returned to the field for Sickles and closed out the Gryphons 6A region semifinal win against Mitchell with three strikeouts (813Preps file photo).

By Rick Cantor
Staff Writer

TAMPA – At 5-foot-6 and 156 pounds, Luke Fikar is not the biggest, strongest, or fastest player in Hillsborough County.  One thing is for certain, the Sickles junior is one of the toughest.

Just three days after a collision in shallow centerfield broke his nose and ended the season of centerfielder Hayden Yost with a broken arm, Fikar found himself on the mound in the top of the seventh inning in a one run contest in Friday’s 6A Regional Semifinal game versus Mitchell.

After a single and an error allowed the first two runners of the inning to reach, Fikar recorded three consecutive strikeouts against the heart of the Mustangs order and preserved the 3-2 victory.

“I knew we needed a big play and I needed to show some grit out there,” said Fikar. “I was relying a lot on my slider and keeping them off balance with it. It just worked out that they were having trouble with it.”

Fikar brought grit in heap-piles on Friday, something Gryphons head coach Eric Luksis said he couldn’t imagine seeing late Tuesday evening.

“Seventy-two hours ago, Luke was lying in centerfield with a bloody, broken nose with his teammate lying beside him in pain,” Luksis said. “… Luke practiced in full on Thursday and he told me 10 times, ‘Coach, I’m playing tomorrow.’

“That’s all I needed. He started at shortstop, got the save and faced some of the best hitters in the state and country to close it out. His toughness and resilience are unmatched and it’s what makes him so good.”

Asked Friday, if there was any doubt he’d be able to go in the semifinal game, Fikar replied: “Not really. As soon as I walked off the field (on Tuesday) I knew I wanted to come back out. I knew the team needed me on defense, so I wanted to come back.”

Sickles (23-6) jumped out to an early lead as a single by Connor Vance and walks to Caden McDonald and Bryce Vance loaded the bases for sophomore Cameron Guise, who grounded a one-strike pitch up the middle to drive in a pair of early runs.

“I was sitting fastball there. I knew he didn’t want to bounce a slider. I got the fastball and just poked it up the middle,” said Guise. “It’s always good to get ahead early. It gives you some confidence to play with the lead.”

In the bottom of the fifth, the Gryphons scored what turned out to be the winning run in an unconventional way.

Sickles loaded the bases courtesy of walks to Justin Allen, Guise, and a plunking of Bryce Vance. Vance took a big secondary lead from second and drew a throw from Mitchell catcher Hayden Cockman, ending up in a rundown and allowing courtesy runner Jacob Dial to score.

The run would give the Gryphons the insurance needed as Mitchell (17-9) made its move in the top of the sixth inning.

After a sparkling performance from starting pitcher Adrian Cartaya (five innings, no runs, four hits, one walk, and three strikeouts), Sickles turned to ace pitcher Caden McDonald in the sixth.

The Mustangs responded by scoring a pair of runs on a misplayed ball by Connor Vance on a liner to left and an RBI groundout from Mustang freshman Logan Coslin. With runners on second and third, McDonald struck out Chase Nystrom and Sam McKeown to end the threat.

“It’s been a total team effort,” said Fikar. “No matter what happens, even with all of the injuries we’ve had, people just step up and get it done.”

The win sets up a Regional Final date with Strawberry Crest at home next Tuesday at 7pm.

Class 6A-Region 2 Semifinal ⚾

Sickles 3
Mitchell 2

M 000|002|0 – |2|7|1
S 200|010|x – |3|5|3
W – Cartaya (5-1); L – Harrison; S – Fikar (3)
Records – M (17-9); S (23-6).