Following a run to the state final four, the Dr. Phillips baseball team hopes to continue making improvements on the field.
The click-clacking of plastic spikes meeting concrete break the silence at John Barbati Field at Dr. Phillips High School. It’s a welcome sound for members of the Panthers baseball team, because it — as well as the warm sun above their heads — signals one thing: Baseball is finally back.
After a long offseason, the time is now for the Panthers and new head coach Ray Evans.
“With all the talent that I’ve ever had in a team — that have been successful — I think that this team has enough talent to be successful,” Evans said. “They definitely have it. They just have to make sure they put it together, stay together and that they all have the one goal in mind — the ‘W.’”
Despite a modest 19-14 record last season, the Panthers had a knack for picking up those wins when they needed them the most.
A quick 6-0 season had the Panthers feeling something special, but what followed was a roller-coaster year in which DP won a few and lost a few. Then the playoffs happened.
Out of nowhere, DP stormed through the region, beating Lake Brantley and Boone before taking out a talented Lake Mary team for the regional title.
The Panthers’ run came to an end as they fell in the state semifinal to Timber Creek. It was an impressive — if unexpected — accomplishment, but for Evans that was last season.
“I don’t want the kids to think that it will come easy — it’s not,” Evans said. “As of right now, this is what I’ve told them: ‘One, you weren’t event ranked in the top 25 in the state, and you going to the final four meant absolutely nothing to anybody — you lost.’”
Having that proverbial chip on their shoulders is something Evans hopes will inspire them on another strong playoff push. It also helps that he’ll be getting the core of the group coming back.
Sans losing senior hitting machine August Haymaker (.390 BA, 20 RBI, one home run), the Panthers will have an offense that last year outscored opponents 182-101 and a pitching game that gave up only 3.06 runs per game.
Coming into his first year — following a lengthy stint at Flanagan (Pembroke Pines) — Evans studied the returning roster up and down, and his eyes told him all he needed to know.
“I think that we hit well, we run well, we field well — the pitching and defense can never take a day off and I don’t think that we have a premier 90-plus guy, but I’ve won in the past without that,” Evans said. “You just have to have enough arms in the stable where you can continue moving them around and put the puzzle pieces where they need to be. And I think the hitting is going to be really important to us this year, because I think we can really swing the bat.”
At the plate for the Panthers, Evans will look to players such as junior outfielder Brandon Fields (.359 BA, 23 RBI, three home runs), senior shortstop Raymond Engron Valero (.321 BA, seven RBI) and senior CJ Cantwell (.299 BA, 10 RBI).
Add to the possible explosive offense a group of talented pitchers in senior Mitchell Stockwell (3-1 record, 0.62 ERA, 43 Ks), senior righty Christopher Bryan (1-0 record, 2.52 ERA, 23 Ks) and senior Casey Carns (0-3, 3.00 ERA, six Ks), and it makes sense why Evans is pretty positive with the hand he was given.
“They’ve been there, done that — they were instrumental players last year,” Evans said. “So you say, ‘OK, you have all those returning starters and those arms returning, and there’s no reason why you guys can’t do as good — or much better — than what you did last year.’”
BASEBALL GETS A FACELIFT
Along with improving his guys on the field, Evans also is trying to better the program in other aspects.
Since joining before the start of the school year, Evans — with money raised by the booster club — has bought equipment ranging from catcher’s gear to balls and bats.
“The equipment here was minimal, and we really have got everything we need at this point, but obviously each year you have to restock,” Evans said. “There were no pitching machines — we didn’t have anything. The equipment was not here, which is understandable, because maybe they just use it on an annual basis.”
The two new pitching machines were bought thanks to a few donations. Still, however, there was a lot to be done, Evans said. To raise money, the program will be holding its 14th annual golf tournament fundraiser Monday, Feb. 18, at the Orange Tree Golf Club.
With the event being the biggest fundraiser held by the program, the hope is that it can bring in more money to fund multiple aspects — including traveling to tournaments.
Being able to offer up those kinds of trips helps bonds players and coaches alike, Evans said.
“I’m accustomed to taking spring break trips to go play at big tournaments so that we can get recognized not only by the state but also nationally — you can’t really do that by staying in the state,” Evans said. “Spring break brings kids together. When you go on a road trip … we try to put it together where they’re not with the same guys that they’re accustomed to being with, so they get to know the other guys a little bit better.”
Although the renovations and other things fall into place off the field, on the field the objective is simple: Put yourself in a place to win.
“There’s a lot of things that go into being successful,” Evans said. “If everything goes your way, then it happens. We’re just hoping that everyone stays healthy and that everyone plays at their peak individually, so as a team we peak. Hopefully at the end, we’re in the mix — that’s all you can ask.”
Dr. Phillips High
2018 record: 19-14 (5-5 in district)
Coach: Ray Evans
Key returners: Brandon Fields, Raymond Engron Valero, CJ Cantwell
Key losses: August Haymaker
Quick hits: Although leading hitter August Haymaker is gone, first-year head coach Ray Evans will get to work with a core of players returning from last year’s final four team. Brandon Fields (.359 BA, 23 RBI, three home runs) will lead the Panthers at the plate, while Mitchell Stockwell (3-1 record, 0.62 ERA, 43 Ks), senior righty Christopher Bryan (1-0 record, 2.52 ERA, 23 Ks) and senior Casey Carns (0-3, 3.00 ERA, six Ks) will take to the mound.
2018 record: 22-4 (10-0 in districts)
Coach: Michael Gale
Key returners: Gracie Lopez, Kati Kelly, Raychel Trocki
Key losses: Hannah Eden
Quick hits: After a strong season that ended with a disappointing loss in the playoffs, DP will look to rebound this season with a returning core of solid players. The offense will be led by Gracie Lopez (.451 BA, 16 RBI, two home runs) and Raychel Trocki (.373 BA, 32 RBI, four home runs). Trocki also will lead on the mound. The senior went 22-4 last year with an ERA of 1.81 and a whopping 194 strikeouts.
The First Academy
2018 record: 18-9 (3-3 in district)
Coach: Scott Grove
Key returners: Chenar Brown, Trey Harris, Matt Edwards
Quick hits: The Royals look to rebound after a disappointing end to last season that included a loss in the district title to Trinity Catholic, before falling in the regional semis to Calvary Christian. Luckily for head coach Scott Grove, he’ll have a lot of talent to work with this upcoming season.
2018 record: 17-8 (4-2 in district)
Coach: Kaley Bitterman
Quick hits: Before a season-ending loss in the district semis to Trinity Prep, the Royals played a solid season as they picked up their most wins since head coach Kaley Bitterman took over in 2017.
2018 record: 14-9-1 (5-2 in district)
Coach: Chuck Schall
Quick hits: Last season, Olympia finished second in district play behind Apopka, thanks in part to a balanced hitting-pitching combo that allowed the Titans to outscore opponents 142-68. This season, head coach Chuck Schall looks to utilize that same style of baseball to push his Titans right back to the state playoffs.
2018 record: 15-12 (2-7 in district)
Coach: Hank Largin
Quick hits: Olympia hit the 15-win mark and made both the district title game and the playoffs for the first time under head coach Hank Largin — who took over in 2017. The Titans kicked off the new year against Celebration Tuesday, Feb. 12.
2018 record: 19-9 (7-1 in district)
Coach: Eric Lassiter
Quick hits: There’s no telling how the first year of a program could go, but for Windermere, baseball things got off to a positive start as the Wolverines not only finished above .500, but also finished in first place in the 8A, District 10 standings.
2018 record: 15-13 (2-2 in district)
Coach: Eileen Hannigan
Quick hits: The first season as a program, Windermere found surprising success on the diamond as the Wolverines not only finished above .500 but also made it to the district finals and the state playoffs. The bar may be set high going into the second year, but there’s no reason to think that the Wolverines won’t make the same amount of noise in this upcoming season.
2018 record: 14-11 (3-3 in district)
Coach: Scott Horvath
Quick hits: With its modest 14-11 record, Windermere Prep finished above .500 for the first time since going 19-5 in 2015 — a positive step if you ask head coach Scott Horvath. The hope of kicking off the season on the right foot will start on opening day against Lake Mary Prep Tuesday, Feb. 19.
2018 record: 10-7 (0-3 in district)
Coach: JD Wood
Quick hits: In an up-and-down year, the Lakers ended the season three games above .500 — an incredible rebound considering Windermere Prep hadn’t won a game over the previous two seasons. With such an improvement, the Lakers will look to build on last year’s success as the program moves in the right direction.