With a new coach in Graig Smith and a group of young players, the Warriors are having a season that no one expected.
Sitting at 10-6 so far this season and 4-0 in district play, the West Orange High baseball team is sitting pretty.
The team has jelled, the hits have fallen where they need to, and from the mound, the pitching has put the Warriors in winning situations.
And it’s hard to believe that, given the success for the program now, that there were doubts before the season started.
“I feel like coming into the season, the odds were against us, pretty much, with 13 seniors leaving,” said junior shortstop Anthony Garcia. “(We had to adapt) to new kids and pretty much just tried to get to know each other and get comfortable playing with each other. I feel like it’s gone pretty good so far. We’ve competed so far through the first couple of games through the season.”
The Warriors’ lineup is filled with fresh faces, including many freshmen who are experiencing their first varsity games. The entire outfield is comprised of underclassmen, and one of the top relievers is a freshman.
Despite the challenges that come with inexperience, there’s a strong silver lining for first-year head coach Graig Smith.
In dealing with younger players, Smith gets the chance to mold them and set those foundations early. The biggest thing at first, however, was getting them to really dedicate themselves to the team — all of which started in the fall.
“They really started to buy in as we got going,” Smith said. “They started realizing the type of team we are, the type of offense we have. And our pitching staff with coach Sullivan running that — we really run our guys out there to give us everything they’ve got, and they know coming in behind them is another guy who is going to give everything.”
For pitchers, such as junior Jonathan Russell, buying in wasn’t difficult. He had played his freshman and sophomore years under Smith when he was the assistant/head coach for the Warriors’ JV team — that was before Smith left the program in 2017 to help start the program at Windermere.
But in the case of Garcia, who transferred in from Lake Minneola, it took a little longer to get to the necessary comfort level.
“I came here originally for what was here, and when I got here, it all changed,” Garcia said. “That was a big challenge for me — just getting used to a whole new coaching staff … and just adapting to everything. It worked out pretty well.”
With everything about this team being so new, it’s no surprise expectations for the Warriors were low. But if anything, that has only fueled this team more.
“We came in not even listed — not even ranked — and nothing was really expected of these guys in the local area,” Smith said. “They’re constantly playing with that chip on their shoulder of, ‘Well, see if you can beat us,’ type of thing. We’re out here to kind of surprise some people.”
Although they started off the season surprising folks on the baseball diamond, now the Warriors are up front and center in district play. Everyone is paying attention — including Lake Brantley (10-5, 2-0) and Olympia (12-2, 2-0).
Outside of district play, the Warriors also are playing two huge games this month, which includes a match against Dr. Phillips (11-4, 7-1) and a game of gargantuan proportions against rival Windermere.
Now that they’re in the crosshairs of every opponent, the Warriors will need to keep that chip on their shoulder and take it one game at a time.
“I feel like when it comes to other opponents, there’s no other team working harder than us right now,” Garcia said. “Everyone is willing to sacrifice in order for us to become that winning team.”