When Troy Cameron accepted the baseball coaching job at his alma mater, he didn’t expect to be so busy at this time of year.
Because of bad weather, Cameron’s St. Thomas Aquinas team played three regional playoff games in five days last week.
The Raiders won them all. Cameron has his stellar pitching staff to thank — as well as his new lucky charm. His daughter Jaden, just four weeks old, was at all three of those games.
When Aquinas plays Haines City in a Class 7A state semifinal Friday afternoon, wife Lauren and baby Jaden will be there again.
“She’s got three wins in her already. She’s 3-0, and my wife won’t miss a game,” Cameron said. “It’s been a crazy, hectic last couple of months to say the least. There’s only one way to finish it off, and that’s to hopefully get two more wins.”
Once the highest-rated high schooler ever drafted out of Broward County (Heritage’s Eric Hosmer took his record when taken third by Kansas City in 2008), Cameron knew there were question marks when he took over for Bobby Lawson.
The Raiders, now 19-6, had just two position players returning from last year’s playoff team.
One thing Cameron didn’t question was his starting pitching.
Seniors Alec Byrd, who has signed with Florida State, and Frank Rubio have paced the Raiders this season.
“We knew with Rubio and Byrd coming back, they would be the horses for our pitching staff,” said Cameron, who was the 29th overall draft pick by the Braves in 1997.
“They have been even better than we thought they would. There is no secret they are the reason for our success. From an offensive standpoint, I’m happy how well we’ve hit the ball and honestly, a little surprised how we’ve hit it.”
Rubio, who is deciding between signing with Miami and Florida, will get the start against Haines City at the Red Sox complex in Fort Myers on Friday after beating Nova 8-5 in the regional semifinals last Wednesday.
“Things started off a little rough for us, but this is where we wanted to be,” Rubio said. “We’re hitting our stride at the right time. This is the game you wait your whole career for. I’m a senior and only got one or two innings in the playoff last year. We’re taking every opportunity to show we belong here.”
Byrd, who beat West Boca on Friday in the regional finals, said he is confident Rubio will get the job done against Haines City and put the Raiders in the state championship game for the first time since Aquinas won its last title in 2003.
This is Aquinas’ eighth trip to state and second time since 2010. Byrd (8-1) was a freshman on that team, the only current Aquinas player who was on it.
He is pretty pumped about being able to go back.
“Rubio is going to do his job and get us to the championship,” Byrd said. “Then, hopefully, I do my job and we bring back that trophy.”
• Cameron has only been coaching for two years as he spent last season as an assistant at Coral Springs Charter, and members of his first staff at Aquinas are no strangers to South Florida.
Pitching coach Tim McNab was an All-Broward selection at Cooper City before going on to Indiana University.
Aquinas’ hitting coach is Mike Rodriguez, McNab’s teammate with the Cowboys who won two national titles in Miami in 1999 and 2001 before moving on to play with the Astros organization.
Former Aquinas head coach Ed Waters and longtime Raiders assistant John Hackett are also on staff. Both Waters and Hackett coached Cameron at Aquinas when the Raiders won their first baseball state title in 1995.
“I would have been foolish not to come back here when the opportunity presented itself,” Cameron said. “This has been a great first year.”
Blanche Ely 6-3 star guard Dallas Cameron has signed a letter of intent with Stephen F. Austin following a decommitment to American University.
Landing Cameron, coined “The locksmith” by Ely five-time state champion coach Melvin Randall, is considered a huge catch for the Lumberjacks.
Cameron averaged 10.8 points and 6.4 assists this past season but it was his unique ability to change a game defensively that launched Ely (27-2, ESPN 25 Power Rankings No. 9) to its second consecutive Class 7A state title.
Cameron burnished his reputation as a lock-down perimeter defender and picked up his offensive game during the playoffs.
In an 85-79 double-overtime victory over Palm Beach Lakes, Cameron scored 20 points and followed that with 17 points against Bartow in the state semifinals and 14 points against Orlando Evans in the state championship game to earn Tournament MVP.
Cameron finished his career as the Tigers’ all-time leader in wins (100-12).