CDS baseball reaches first state final four, seeks title

It’s been a season of milestones for the Carrollwood Day School varsity baseball program.

First 20-win season. First district title. First regional win. First regional title. First final four.

And, they’re seeking yet another this week — a state championship.

The Patriots (24-3) will face Tallahassee North Florida Christian (24-3) in the FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association) Class 3A state semifinal on May 23.

The winner will play for the Class 3A crown on Thursday against either Fort Myers Canterbury School (25-5) or Fort Pierce John Carroll Catholic High School (19-7), from the other state semifinal matchup.

The Carrollwood Day School Patriots (23-4) will play in its first-ever state semifinal on May 23 against Tallahassee North Florida Christian. If they win, they play for a Class 3A state title on May 24. (Courtesy of Carrollwood Day School Athletics)

All contests are played at Centurylink Sports Complex – Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.

Following a stellar regular season, the Patriots have cruised through postseason play, most recently beating Lakeland Christian 4-0 in the Class 3A regional final on May 15.

With an eight-day layoff between games, the team has maintained its regular practice schedule in preparation for its biggest tests of the season.

Despite extra time off, Patriots first-year head coach and longtime assistant Ken Akins said, “there’s no concern at all” about rust leading into the state semifinals.

“We had decent time in between the two regional games…so we’re used to it, but to be honest that doesn’t bother me one bit. We will continue to do what we do. We will continue to stay loose,” Akins said.

“The thing that we have really worked on, and I told them at the very beginning of the season, ‘I’m going to teach you kids how to play loose. When you get tight in this game, you fail, and if you can just stay loose, stay relaxed, everything’s going to go our way.’ And, it has to this point, which has been fantastic, so why change it now? We’re going to continue to do the absolute same things that we’ve done in the past.”

The mindset has proven true all season long for Carrollwood Day, winning 11 games by a margin of one or two runs.

The string of narrow victories is a credit to the team’s defense and pitching staff, which has combined 1.30 ERA and a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Among the Patriots’ top pitchers is a trio of seniors who’ve been reliable all season — Gabriel Partridge (0.64 ERA, 11 wins), Andre Hevesy (1.06 ERA) and Frank Furey (1.96 ERA).

“We have always put pride in our pitching and our defense,” Akins said.

“This entire tournament we’ve played error-free baseball, so it’s what has got us in this position. You look back at the amount of won one-run games that we’ve had, and the key to that is the kids and the trust, and being relaxed and being able to throw strikes — and they have done it all season long.”

Another strong showing on the mound will be imperative against North Florida Christian, which has a .352 team batting average and 18 team home runs.

Its top three sluggers are hitting .450 or better — juniors J.D. Tease (.521 batting average, 37 RBIs) and Carson Neal (.452, five home runs, 33 RBIs) and senior Matthew Dickey (.464, three home runs, 30 RBIs).

The Patriots are ready for the challenge, Partridge, the team’s ace, said.

“We’re looking forward to it, not backing down, and we know it’s going to be a good game…,” Partridge said.

Besides pitching and defense, Carrollwood Day has benefitted from stellar hitting from the likes of Furey (.378, two home runs, 24 RBIs) and Hevesy (.308, six doubles, 16 RBIs), as well as senior Rodrigo Montenegro (.373, 31 runs) and junior Blake Hooker (.337, 23 RBIs).

Team speed (94 stolen bases) is another asset for Carrollwood Day.

However, runs may be hard to come by against an opposing group that sports a 2.34 team ERA and strikes out an average of 1.42 batters per inning.

“We have an idea of what we’re going to go up against, but the bottom line is they’re going to put nine guys on the field, we’re going to put nine guys on the field, and I trust my guys and believe in my guys so much that everything’s going to be left on the field, and hopefully we come out on top,” Akins said.

It’s been a steady progression to the Patriots’ best season in program history.

Last year the team went 17-10 and lost in the first round of the district tournament, under former head coach Nick Rodriguez.

Its next best campaign came in 2015, when the squad went 14-10.

The team mainly hovered around .500 in other seasons.

Partridge said the Patriots are “actually playing together” compared to last year —his first season with the team after transferring from Miami’s Immaculata-LaSalle.

Also a more experienced group, the Patriots have 16 upperclassmen (six seniors, 10 juniors).

“We’re more of a team,” the pitcher said. “We’re treating each other like family, and that’s good. It’s helping us. We play like we know we got each other’s backs and, if we make a mistake or do something wrong, we know that we’ll pick each other up for everything — and that’s the difference between this year and last year.”

And, as one of six seniors, Partridge is relishing every moment of the best season in program history.

“I’m glad to be a part of it. It’s awesome,” Partridge said. “You see how happy guys are, all around the dugout, all around the school, congratulating us and everything. It’s pretty cool to be a part of the first time the team (has reached the state final four).”

Published May 23, 2018

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