JetBlue Park will see some new faces in the state tournament this year, the underdogs known as the Calvary Christian Eagles.
The Eagles (19-9) will not only be at state for the first time in school history, but they also will be the first team up to bat in the tournament at 1 p.m. Friday against Tampa Berkeley Prep at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers.
What exactly clicked for the Eagles this year to lead them so far in the season?
“We started Sept. 1 in the weight room, we didn’t do anything on skill development or play a fall schedule,” said Alan Kunkel, Calvary Christian’s new coach who is very well acquainted with JetBlue Park, as he led his Orangewood Christian team to a state runner-up finish in 2011.
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The time spent in the weight room allowed the Eagles to build confidence and create a better team chemistry.
Which is exactly what they needed in their first season with Kunkel as coach.
“It was tough because you don’t really know what to expect,” Kunkel said. “You have three kids returning from last years regional finals the previous year, which were the ones which had any varsity experience.”
Nevertheless, he set his sights high right at the beginning of the season. “How are we any different than any other team in the country? Let’s focus on something bigger,” he said to his team back in September. “Let’s focus on getting better every day — our attitudes and efforts reflecting our sportsmanship. Let’s take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.”
So they continued to put in the work in the weight room and saw the improvement on the field.
Senior catcher and FIU commit Max Guzman has been one of the leaders, with 12 home runs, 36 RBI and a .492 batting average.
Most importantly, Guzman does it all with a huge smile on his face. “Kids like Max Guzman have really light personalities. He’s a kid that drives our ship emotionally,” Kunkel said.
On the mound, sophomore right-handed pitcher Christian Scott (6-1) finished with a 1.72 ERA in 40 2/3 innings, striking out 51 batters.
Whether this team will achieve its goal of winning the first state title for Calvary Christian or just gain experience to come back stronger next season, the Eagles, with Kunkel’s guidance, proved that the small things do make a huge difference.
His advice for first timers in Jet Blue Park?
“Not to let the magnitude of the game get to you,” the coach said. “I try to make them understand, ‘Hey we’re just playing a game — doesn’t matter who your opponent is.’ ”
If you go
What: The state baseball finals.
When: Through Saturday (Classes 4A-1A); Wednesday through May 21 (Classes 9A-5A).
Where: JetBlue Park, 11500 Fenway South Drive, Fort Myers.
Admission: $9 per day; Parking: $10 cars; $50 fan buses.
Wednesday’s results – Class 2A semifinals: Jacksonville Christ’s Church 2, Naples Seacrest 1 (10); Lake Worth Trinity Christian 8, Deltona Trinity Christian 0; Class 1A semifinals: Milton Central vs. Mayo Lafayette, inc.; Chiefland vs. Panama City Bozeman, inc.
Thursday’s schedule – Class 2A final: Lake Worth Trinity Christian vs. Christ’s Church, 4:05; Class 1A final: 7:35.
Friday’s schedule – Class 4A semifinals: Jacksonville Providence vs. Fort Myers Bishop Verot, 10 a.m.; Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian vs. Tampa Berkeley Prep, 1; Class 3A semifinals: Tallahassee Maclay vs. Fort Myers Canterbury, 4; Fort Pierce John Carroll vs. Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic, 7.
Saturday’s schedule – Class 4A final: 4:05; Class 3A final: 7:35.