THURSDAY, June 1, 2017

Sailors are living in a dream season

Source: Published by Herald Tribune, Dennis Maffezzoli

 

SARASOTA - Dreams of reaching a State Final 4 start before the season’s first game.

 

In reality, at least for the Sarasota High baseball team, those aspirations kicked in eight games into the regular season.

 

The Sailors were languishing at 10-7 and whispers of this not being a “typical Sarasota team” were becoming louder and louder.

 

Like he has often had to do with other teams during his 36 years as head coach of the Sailors, Clyde Metcalf thought this team needed a nudge.

 

“All the guys who used to play for me know sometimes my nudges are loud and challenging,” Metcalf said.

 

This was not.

 

After a Saturday afternoon 7-6 loss on the road at Palm Harbor University, he gathered the team’s nine seniors for a chat that lasted about 10 minutes.

 

“The only thing I talked to them about that day was accountability,” Metcalf said. “It’s time for you guys to become more accountable to each other. It’s time for us as coaches to become more accountable to you. We’re going to come out and give 110 percent every day. We’re going to put a good plan on the field to get you ready. And it’s time for you guys to be accountable back to us. Then we had a great practice.”

 

The Sailors have gone 12-1 since, winning district and regional titles in the process.

 

After its 5-3 victory over Lutz Steinbrenner in the Class 8A-Region 2 final May 23 at Ronald K. Drews Field, Sarasota is back in the Final 4, bidding for its ninth state title in school history.

 

The Sailors (23-9) take on Oviedo Hagerty (25-9) in the 8A State Semifinals at 1 p.m. Friday at Centurylink Field at Hammond Stadium, the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins, in Fort Myers.

 

“Coach talked to all the seniors and we need to step up if we are going to make a run,” catcher/relief pitcher Cole Madden said. “That’s what we did.”

 

The only blemish since Palm Harbor was a 9-8 loss to Venice High in a game Sarasota took an 8-4 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning.

 

“Coach came up to us and said, ‘You seniors have to turn this around. You’ve got to show leadership and just go out there and have fun.’ ” pitcher Brooks Larson said.

 

If there is anyone who is having fun, it is Larson.

 

Not only has he become the go-to pitcher down the stretch, he won a couple of games with his bat.

 

In the regional semifinals against Tarpon Springs East Lake, Larson hit a game-winning, two-run double after the Eagles had taken the lead in the eighth inning.

 

In the regional final against Steinbrenner, he hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning that turned a deficit into a 5-3 Sailors victory.

 

“Brooks right now is having the time of his life,” Metcalf said. “He’s going to Northeastern as a student. This is the end of his baseball career. He loves high school baseball and brings an attitude every day.”

 

Larson shook off a frustrating start on the mound against Steinbrenner, allowing a single and a two-run home run on his first two pitches of the game.

 

“He has the ability to move on, put it in the rearview mirror and move on,” Metcalf said. “It’s just the ability to give your best, which he did, and when the time was over, it was time to go play the field and hit and give your best. That’s his approach. He loves it. He loves playing at Sarasota High School. He loves playing with this group of guys.”

 

It took two swings of the bat for the Warriors to take the early lead. It took only one swing from Larson to give the advantage to Sarasota.

 

“He got one up in the wind that went out,” Larson said of Steinbrenner’s Tyler Lala. “I figured I’d return the favor.”

 

It is that kind of fun-loving attitude that has changed the fortunes of the Sailors.

 

“We knew we had a team, despite what other people thought, we had a team that we believed in,” Larson said with a huge smile on his face.

 

Going for their first state title since 2007, the Sailors will face a Hagerty team that beat Lakeland George Jenkins, 6-2, in the regional final.

 

“It’s very special,” Metcalf said. “It’s always special if you win your region and go to the Final 4. For our coaching staff, it’s really special with these guys because they’ve endured. They endured when people questioned them. They endured when people questioned their ability. They endured when people said this isn’t your typical Sarasota High team. Whatever they said, they endured it.

 

“They got better. They will themselves to get better. Hopefully, our coaching staff had something to do with it. But the credit lies with those kids. They did an incredible job of grabbing themselves by the bootstraps, so to say, and do this. We’re going to get this done. And they believe in themselves.”