The Coyotes lost their best player ever — in their best season in just their short six-year history.
Yet, the Cypress Creek High baseball team has no plans to take a step back in competitiveness.
“Actually, our group, and myself, we’ve come in with high expectations,” said Coyotes coach Joe Neale, who is 64-43 since starting the program. “I think we’ll be very competitive, and we’re going to compete every night, but I don’t think there’s anyone that thinks that if we need a win, that we can’t go get it.
“The district (Class 5A-8) is wide open, so there will be close ballgames, but we’re deeper (on the roster) than a year ago, so we’re happy about that.”
That is something of itself since the Coyotes saw the departure of two-way player Ethan Petry, the 2022 Sunshine Athletic Conference Player of the Year and now budding freshman at the University of South Carolina.
Petry, a third baseman, batted .479 on 34 hits with 18 RBI, nine doubles, two triples and a team-high six homers. On the mound, Petry was 5-2 with a 1.97 ERA and a team-high 60 strikeouts.
Also now playing collegiate ball is Caden Kwiat at East Georgia State College after going 4-3 with a 1.71 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 2022 and catcher Nick Sanchez at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina after batting .306 with 22 hits, 14 RBI, two doubles and two triples.
But Neale is expecting big things from senior pitcher and first baseman Max Menendez, who was 3-0 with a 3.15 ERA and 43 strikeouts on the mound and who drove in a team-high 20 RBI last season.
“It feels great (to step into the No. 1 pitcher role), but now it’s time to show,” Menendez, a Thomas University (Georgia) signee, said. “I know (Petry’s) shoes are big to fill, but I’m going to do my thing and make my own big shoes to fill for next year.”
Helping fill in for Petry is transfer Ryan Maggy. The junior shortstop will take over for Petry not only in the infield, but at the plate, where he batted .534 with 39 hits, 47 RBI, four homers, 48 runs scored and had 16 stolen bases for Peru High in New York.
“I’m just glad to get here and play baseball everyday, nothing beats that, because we’re shoveling snow off the fields in February,” said Maggy, a University of West Virginia commit. “I’m just trying to contribute just as much, if not more, than any of the previous teammates we’ve had, like the seniors that left last year. It’s not that I’m the new guy or thinking about the previous seasons — I’m thinking about this season and how I can make it a good one.”
Others looking to make it a good season will be Ryan Buelk, who will step into a closer role and “can be lights out on the mound,” Neale said. Plus, Derek Carson will become a starting pitcher after throwing just 7.2 innings in 2022.
“We expect big things out of Derek,” Neale said. “As a lefty on the mound, he doesn’t throw too hard, but has great command and really keeps guys on their heels. If we give him three or four runs a game, we’re going to win those games.”
While the Coyotes might be experienced and have depth, they are still young — but ready to return to the postseason after winning their first playoff game in the regional quarterfinals: a 6-4 win over Okeechobee.
“I think since it’s always so competitive, that the guys are never comfortable,” Neale said. “They’re never complacent and humble enough that they know they have to work hard. When you see these guys want to work enough so they can get the starting spot and work hard to climb over each other, it just makes everyone better.
“So, we don’t feel like last year was a fluke.”
Class 7A-District 7
Palm Harbor University
Class 6A-District 5
Land O’ Lakes
Class 6A-District 9
Tampa Bay Tech
Class 5A-District 8
Class 5A-District 9
Class 2A-District 5
Hernando Christian Academy
Seven Rivers Christian
Class 2A-District 10
Academy at the Lakes
Foundation Christian Academy
Sports Leadership & Management
*Bolded teams are Pasco County teams and teams in the publication’s coverage area.
Published February 22, 2023
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