DR. PHILLIPS Mike Bradley isn’t phased when his Dr. Phillips baseball team gets off to a slow start.
The Panthers are 1-4 so far this spring, including two sound defeats to open the season at a weeklong event at Lake Brantley, but the veteran head coach has seen this before.
In 2014, Dr. Phillips got off to a 1-4 start but finished 17-11 and made the state playoffs — as it has in each of the past five seasons dating back to 2011. In 2015, the Panthers were 3-5 before coming together to finish 15-13 and, again, made the state playoffs.
This spring, Bradley has a relatively inexperienced roster — particularly among his pitching staff. But that doesn’t mean it is a roster that lacks talent.
As has been the modus operandi for the club the past few years, the idea is that — behind the leadership of seniors such as Chase Cheek, Tanner May, Chris Moore and Ruben Saldana — this team will get better as the season progresses and peak just in time for the district tournament in mid-April.
“You always want to be playing your best ball at the end of the season,” Bradley said. “That’s kind of how we’ve always done it at Dr. Phillips. We’re trying to figure out who we are at the beginning, trying to plug in the right guys, and then by the end of the season play our best brand of baseball.”
The confidence of their head coach, who has five playoff appearances during his seven years leading the program, has translated to the players. Moore, an FAU signee, believes he and his teammates will be playing their best ball by season’s end.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about getting out of your district and regional appearances. We’re right up there with the best in that regard.”
Mike Bradley, Dr. Phillips baseball coach
“I do believe that we have a chance to turn it on by the district tournament,” Moore said. “We’ve got a lot of inexperienced players now, but as the season progresses, they’ll get more comfortable.”
With alumni such as Johnny Damon, Brian Barber, Danny Miceli and A.J. Pierzynski and a state title to its credit in 1996, the program at Dr. Phillips has plenty of tradition and Bradley makes sure that upkeeping that legacy is an inspiration to his players.
“Historically, Dr. Phillips has been a program that is one of the top in the nation and top in the state in Florida, year after year,” Bradley said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about getting out of your district and regional appearances. We’re right up there with the best in that regard.”
Despite the program’s success while this senior class has been on campus, there has been a rather large roadblock in the Panthers’ way each time they’ve made the playoffs — Olympia. The Titans, who have spent time in each of the past two seasons ranked as the top program in the country, have ended Dr. Phillips’ season in the regional playoffs in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Besting their rival down the road will be just one point of motivation for the Panthers as they look to improve in the next two months.
Moore is playing for Dr. Phillips on the field but is still rehabbing from a bicep injury that will keep him off the mound for the next few weeks. When he returns, the hope is that the combination of him and Ryan Goonen at the top of the rotation and the growth of the younger players in the bullpen will have the Panthers ready to face off with Boone, Freedom, Cypress Creek and Oak Ridge in the district tournament.
“High school baseball, if you’ve got one arm, you’ve got a chance, and if you’ve got two arms, you’ve got a heck of a chance to advance,” Bradley said.
Helping to bring along the younger members of the staff will be veteran catcher Ruben Saldana, whom Bradley considers to be the team’s captain and leader.
One thing is for sure: This is a club full of players who are proud to be Panthers.
“We’ve continued the tradition that is Dr. Phillips baseball,” Bradley said.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].