MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2016

New year, same goals for Sailors

Source: Herald-Tribune published by John Lembo


Pressure isn’t always a bad thing.


Just ask Sarasota High’s baseball team.


One of the most decorated programs in the country, the Sailors and their longtime head coach, Clyde Metcalf, know a thing or two about playing under the weight of – and often meeting – lofty expectations.


As the team enters yet another regional tournament, Sarasota is happy to have such expectations again this season.


A year ago, the Sailors arrived at the district tournament on a four-game losing streak and an un-Sarasota-like record of 14-11. They went roughly a month without beating an area team. They lost three games during their tradition-rich tournament, the Sarasota Baseball Classic.


“We were scuffling bad,” Metcalf said.


The Sailors, of course, turned things around and wound up reaching the Class 7A state championship game.


This spring has been a bit different. Sarasota (20-6) defeated heavyweights Tampa Jesuit and Venice on back-to-back days during the final week of the regular season and allowed one run over 12 innings to cruise to the Class 8A-District 8 tournament.


Consequently, the pressure is on the Sailors yet again, which is why Metcalf was so pleased when his team defeated Manatee last Tuesday in a district semifinal, ensuring Sarasota of another trip to the regional tournament. The Sailors host Tarpon Springs East Lake on Wednesday in a Region 2 quarterfinal.


“That first game, to me, is the toughest game of the season,” Metcalf said. “They’re all tough and the pressure mounts. Last year, we lost four straight. I felt there was no pressure on us.”


Even though Sarasota dropped its regular-season finale to Riverview in eight innings, this year feels different than last, Metcalf said.


“These guys know the level they can play at, so maybe there’s a little more pressure,” he said. “But they’ve handled it really well.”


They have an ace in Leo Delatorre and another solid starter in Brooks Larson, who blanked Lakewood Ranch for four innings during Thursday’s District 8 final. And the lineup is averaging nearly seven runs per game.


“We’re a little more confident this year,” said senior Nick Long.


“Last year, we were starting to fall apart and everyone was getting down, but then we just clicked. But this year, we’ve been clicking all year. We haven’t had a down period all year and hopefully we can keep rolling like this.”


Thus far that has resulted in a district title, which still means plenty to Metcalf despite a sparkling resume that includes 825 wins and six state championships.


“Everyone wants to be a state champion. But to me, winning a district championship has always been the big goal,” he said. “It allows you to host. I think there’s an advantage to not traveling. You know you’re going to play good teams, but to me district championships have always been special.”


Last year’s Sailors were special in turning around a seemingly subpar season and coming within a win of hanging another state championship year near the entrance of Ronald K. Drews Field.


This year’s team has been special, too. And while that may come with a certain degree of expectations, it doesn’t seem to be having a negative effect on the guys in the dugout.


Sarasota is supposed to win ballgames. Everything is back to normal.


“It’s fun playing under pressure,” Long said. “I like it.”