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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022 7 months ago

A Royal Return: The First Academy begins 2022 season

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The First Academy’s varsity baseball team is ready to defend its state championship.
by: Chris Martucci Sports Editor

After a long fall and winter, high school baseball makes its return to the diamond in Central Florida. With Major League Baseball still in the midst of a lockout, baseball fans starved for the game they love will have plenty of high school teams taking the field. 

The new season could not come soon enough for The First Academy. The Royals won their first state championship in 2021 — their first title since winning the 2014 national championship. 

In 2021, the Royals dominated almost every opponent that came their way, with a loss to Bishop Moore being the lone blemish on an otherwise perfect record. Throughout the season, the team scored 280 runs, allowed fewer than 50 runs and maintained a team batting average of .313 — almost 30 points more than the national average. 

That dominance continued into the postseason. TFA only allowed 16 runs (11 of which came against Trinity Catholic in a 12-11 victory) and scored 60. 

“2021 was an extraordinary year,” head coach Scott Grove said. “It was a lot of fun. Coming into this year, we have a lot of returners, as well as all of our pitching returning. We’re seeing how much stronger the team has gotten over the year.” 

In addition to the entire pitching staff from last season, TFA is returning 18 position players, including almost its entire starting lineup from last year. The only losses were right-fielder Khadin Bastian and third baseman Tyler Hopkins to graduation. Hopkins finished the season with a .324 average and nine RBIs, while Bastian hit .389 and had 26 RBIs — despite being in and out of the lineup during the season. 

Losing big bats would be a challenge for any team to replace, but Grove counts depth among his team’s strengths.

“Khadin had such a great senior year, and he will certainly be missed,” Grove said. “But we didn’t have him for most of the season, so the guys who platooned in his position did a great job in his position. I think we’re in pretty good shape defensively.” 

Florida State commit Ben Barrett will be assuming the role of third baseman — a position he played his first two years of baseball with the team before being made a starting pitcher. Replacing Bastian will be the platoon of Tyler Rondon and newcomer Jaden Huygens, who transferred to TFA from Cornerstone Charter for his junior year.

The strength of TFA has been its pitching. The Royals’ pitching staff last season finished with an earned run average of 1.20 for the season with 278 strikeouts across the entire staff. Barrett was second on the team in ERA with a magnificent 1.62, 101 strikeouts and won 10 games. Senior Isaac Sewell led in every single major pitching category with 14 wins, 112 strikeouts and a 1.13 ERA. 

With Barrett now making the move to third base, that leaves Dewon Brazelton Jr., Caleb Parmer and Nathan Seeber with chances to become the No. 2 guy in the rotation. 

As defending champions, TFA knows it will get every opponent’s best effort. However, Grove said the Royals are ready.

“We just have to keep a close eye on the little things every day,” Grove said. “By avoiding complacency and thinking because we’re TFA, we just show up and we’re going to win. I have never seen that characteristic in our team; they work extremely hard.

“Our schedule is challenging this year — we’re playing in two big national tournaments,” he said. “We’re more concerned with getting the team prepared to make another run in states and peak at the right time like we did last year. You run into one great arm on any particular day in the tournament, and you’re done if you don’t play well.” 

Not only is a new season coming up for the Royals, but also it will feature some new looks. First, the team debuted new uniforms that invoke the same lettering and look as the Kansas City Royals. Furthermore, the baseball field at Payne Stewart Athletic Complex got a facelift with new turf, LED lights and a new clubhouse that Grove said reminded him of a Division I college clubhouse. 

“We have so many great donors that have been so generous to us, so we have them to thank for all that,” Grove said. 

Opening day for the Royals took place Feb. 22 against Windermere Prep, after press time. The Royals shut out the Lakers by a score of 15-0. 

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Chris Martucci is the sports editor for the West Orange Times & Observer,  Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. He holds a master's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri — Columbia School of Journalism, as well as a bachelor's degree in...

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