FRIDAY, June 2, 2017

Senior's timely performances have Sarasota in final four

Source: Published by Your Observer, Ryan Kohn


SARASOTA - Move over, Paul Bunyan.


Make some room, Johnny Appleseed. Zorro, please, step aside. You too, John Henry.


There’s a new folk hero in town, at least at Sarasota High. His name is Brooks Larson, and he has carried the Sailors’ baseball team to the Class 8A final four in Fort Myers. They will play Hagerty at 1 p.m. June 2 in a state semifinal.


Unlike the folk heroes listed above, Larson’s deeds are not exaggerated.


On May 9, in a regional quarterfinal against St. Petersburg, the senior pitcher threw five shutout innings, stranding seven Green Devils. The Sailors won 1-0. In the team’s May 17 regional semifinal against East Lake, Larson hit a walk-off, eighth-inning double, scoring Johnny Mucci. The 3-2 win sent the Sailors to a May 23 regional final against Steinbrenner.


Larson started that game, and initially looked to have run out of magic. Before Larson recorded any outs, Steinbrenner’s Tyler Lala hit a two-run home run. Larson recovered and allowed just one more run before he was pulled in the fourth inning.


It turns out Larson was saving his best for his last at-bat. With Sarasota down 3-2 in the fifth inning, and two runners on base, Larson connected with a three-run blast to left center field. He spent more time in the air while rounding the bases, leaping, screaming and pumping his fist, than he did on the ground. Larson greeted his teammates with a stomp on home plate that reverberated across Ronald K. Drews Field.


Larson’s ascension to Sarasota baseball royalty is another unlikely occurrence in a season full of them. Historically, the Sailors are the best program in the area, and one of the best in the country. This team, though, was not expected to make much noise. Six seniors will play in college next season, but just one, catcher and pitcher Cole Madden, is headed to an NCAA Division 1 school (the U.S. Military Academy at West Point).


Larson is headed to Northeastern University — as a student, not a baseball player.


“Brooks (Larson) right now is having the time of his life,” Sailors coach Clyde Metcalf said. “This is kind of the end of his baseball career. He brings an attitude every day. He loves high school baseball. He loves playing for Sarasota High School. He loves playing with this group of guys.”


After a 9-2 win over Boone on March 15, a result that improved the Sailors’ record to 9-6, Metcalf pulled his seniors aside. He talked to them about accountability and work ethic, Metcalf said, promising them the coaching staff would give its all if they gave their all back.


“Metcalf and all his wisdom,” Larson said. “He knows what to say at the right time. He told us, ‘We’re a 9-6 team. That’s not bad, but you know, on the inside, you are a better team than that. It’s going to take your senior leadership to get over that hump and become the team we know you can be.’”


They have gone 17-5 since, including the playoffs.


Through its playoff run, the team has shown a propensity for winning close games. Asked where this ability comes from, Metcalf pointed to his chest, or, presumably, what is inside it. 


The team just wants to win, he said, and that plays a major role in high school athletics. The Sailors want to keep playing together, and they are willing that reality into existence. Now headed to Fort Myers, Larson and the Sailors are on a path toward a championship no one but themselves thought possible.


“It’s always special if you win your region and go to the final four,” Metcalf said. “I think for us as coaches, it’s really special with these guys. They endured. They endured when people questioned their ability. They endured when people said, ‘Well, this isn’t your typical Sarasota High team.’ Whatever they said, they endured it, and they got better. The credit lies with those kids.”


After Madden, who took the mound in the sixth inning after catching the previous five innings, got the final out against Steinbrenner, the team formed a dog pile on the infield grass. Someone threw a water bottle in the air. Sailor smiles shone brighter than any of the field lights. Larson got his team composed for the handshake line, then it was back to hugs and exuberance.


“Don’t get hurt guys,” Metcalf said. “We’re not done yet.”