'Program guys' look to lead West Orange baseball back to playoffs
The Warriors' seniors, all signed to play college baseball and who head coach Jesse Marlo affectionately refers to as 'program guys,' believe this is the year West Orange escapes its rugged district.
| 6:31 p.m. February 18, 2016
WINTER GARDEN All seven seniors for West Orange baseball have signed with college programs.
Among them is one of the top pitching prospects in the nation.
All of which is well and good — a credit to both the program at West Orange and each player’s respective travel organizations, where most recruiting now takes place.
Just don’t expect to overhear these Warriors talking too much about anything other than the season at hand.
“When (the calendar) goes from summer ball and travel ball to high school ball, the goal and the mindset changes,” said senior infielder Kole Enright, a Stetson signee.
Indeed, led by the program’s senior class, the varsity season has become a time of the year these Warriors cherish.
“This is what’s fun,” said senior first baseman Nathan Schreckengost, a Landers University signee. “This is when everybody on the field is playing for each other.”
It’s a sentiment shared among the senior class — which also includes Matt Coello (Winthrop signee), Roberto Guillen (Rollins signee), Ethan Jones (Flagler signee), Tyler Baum (UNC signee) and Alec LaRue (Flagler signee) — and, because of that, it trickles down to the talented underclassmen.
It goes like this: Travel ball is a time to be recruited, but spring means business — and representing for the school and its community. It’s a noble mindset — and one that isn’t always the case.
“It’s not like that all the time,” head coach Jesse Marlo said. “It takes a special group. … You have years where you’ve got guys (who) are committed, and they’re just worried about scouts in the stands. …
“I always say I feel like the guys (who) are still here are ‘program guys,’” he said. “The program is bigger than themselves. Those are guys we want — the guys (who) want to live, breathe and die orange and blue.”
“The best teams go through the best teams and you have to beat the best to be the best — we take that challenge head on."
Nathan Schreckengost, West Orange baseball
TIGHT-KNIT AND TOP TIER
The dynamic the Class of 2016 has cultivated is due, in part, to a longstanding familiarity among themselves.
“We’ve all played together since, probably, seventh grade,” Enright said. “We’re a pretty tight-knit group.”
During those years at the varsity level, this class has played through a relatively tough stretch where — in one of the region’s toughest districts — strong programs at Olympia and Apopka have kept West Orange out of the playoffs.
The Titans, whom the Warriors have not beat while this class has been on campus (0-6 since 2013), have spent time in each of the past two seasons ranked No. 1 in the nation, and Apopka (which the Warriors have defeated three times in their past 10 meetings) has seemed to have West Orange’s number — particularly in the district tournament.
This year, the district adds Lake Brantley — another powerhouse. But don’t think these Warriors are feeling sorry for themselves just because it will be a tall task to advance out of the district.
“You always love playing great competition,” Schreckengost said. “The best teams go through the best teams and you have to beat the best to be the best — we take that challenge head on. Ever since I’ve been on varsity, we have not (beaten) Olympia. That’s something I take to heart every day.”
RETURN OF ‘PUDGE’
This year’s club plays with an enthusiasm, energy and passion that reminds Marlo of some of his more dominant teams from the late 2000s — and that’s no coincidence. Starting with last season, the Warriors brought on former star catcher Michael Albaladejo, who played his college baseball at FAU before playing in the Washington Nationals’ farm system, to be an assistant coach.
The effects of the return of “Pudge,” as he was called during his playing days, have been palpable.
“People that have been around knew we probably had the craziest and rowdiest bunch when (Albaladejo) was playing,” Marlo said. “It probably has a little bit to do with it, him being back here. We love having him.”
Of course, there is one achievement the Warriors — even when Alabadejo and his star-studded teammates were on campus from 2006 to 2009 — have yet to taste: playing in a Final Four. Though it will be a tough road, there is a belief among this year’s team that anything can happen.
“That’s what we’ve been trying to do ever since we got to this school,” Schreckengost said. “To get past our district, to get into regionals and hopefully get past regionals — that’d be huge for us.”