After losing 13 seniors off last year’s regional finalist, few thought this version of the Archbishop McCarthy squad would have a chance to add to the school’s impressive baseball history.
Coach Rich Bielski refused to write his team off just because it was young, figuring talent sometimes outshines experience.
“We let them know our expectations weren’t going to change although we would probably have to work harder than anyone else to get there,’’ Bielski said as the Mavericks concluded one of their final practices on Wednesday before traveling to the state tournament in Fort Myers. McCarthy plays Tampa Robinson in a Class 5A semifinal Friday at 10 a.m.
“We had more teaching to do because of their lack of experience and we had some great kids we had to replace. That was probably the best senior class to come through here. They not only won state championships, but they set the tone for the young guys. They took them under their wing and when they were leaving, they told them ‘it’s yours now.’ We’ve just had to work harder this year but the expectations always remained the same.’’
Last year’s senior-laden team fell short of its bid to successfully defend the state title as the Mavericks were trying to extend their Florida-best run of four consecutive state titles.
Sophomore first baseman Alex Toral started on that team as a freshman and saw the pain in the faces of his older teammates after a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Rockledge in extra innings kept the Mavericks from another trip to the state tournament.
Perhaps the memory of last year’s loss — and not just the knowledge that not many expected the Mavericks to return to state — made last week’s 2-1 victory over Merritt Island in the regional title game that much more enjoyable.
“I was blessed to be able to take a lot of knowledge from the seniors we had here last year,’’ Toral said. “After last year, I saw their faces, and I was playing for them this year. I wanted to make a stand. Now we’re not worried about the future. We’re just looking at the game ahead of us.’’
Archbishop McCarthy got a boost in the regional finals as senior pitcher Christian Denby returned from a nagging injury that kept him out of the rotation for two weeks as he pitched a two-hitter against Merritt Island, striking out 10. As a senior, Denby is one of a few McCarthy players who has played in the state tournament — only he did it as a sophomore at St. Thomas Aquinas.
Denby said he didn’t listen to those who predicted the Mavericks would be too young to make serious noise in May because he had seen what others had not.
“We’re a young group but to see this success really isn’t surprising to us because of how hard we work,’’ Denby said. “Age, to us, is just a number. You can say we’re a young team, but it doesn’t bother us. We’re working hard and have built some confidence. These young guys are stepping up.’’
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TRACK & FIELD
Fresh off a sweep of the Class 2A state track titles, Hallandale High has three (Oliver Alexandre, Chanel Freeman and Lamisha Simmons) headed to the University of Nebraska.
Antwuan Musgrove, perhaps the Chargers' biggest recruiting prize after winning 110 and 300 hurdles at state, committed to NCAA power Baylor University.
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Northern Arizona pulled off the McArthur boys’ basketball trifecta with an oral commitment from standout 6-7 wing Felix Rivera-Vega on Tuesday.