Academy at the Lakes gets a new baseball coach

Just two months after guiding Carrollwood Day School to the state final four, Ken Akins looks to achieve similar results at another local private school.

Akins is the new head baseball coach at Academy at the Lakes (AATL), replacing John DiBenedetto, who left the Wildcats program after three seasons for an athletic director position at Mother of Teresa Calcutta Catholic School, a kindergarten through eighth grade school in Lutz.

Ken Akins is the new head baseball coach at Academy at the Lakes. This past season he guided Carrollwood Day School to a 24-4 record and state final four appearance. (Courtesy of Academy at the Lakes)

Under DiBenedetto, AATL achieved its first winning season in program history, a 12-10 record and 6-4 district mark in the 2A ranks. He exits as the program’s winningest coach with 29 career wins.

With a solid foundation in place, Akins is tasked with taking the Wildcats program to even greater heights — like he did at his previous stop.

Carrollwood Day went 24-4 and reached the Class 3A state semifinals — its best finish in program history — in Akins’ lone season as head coach. Moreover, all six of his graduating seniors on that squad signed to play college baseball. Prior to that, Akins previously served as an assistant coach at the school for five seasons.

Akins, however, said the AATL position “was one that I just really couldn’t turn down.” He also noted a “tighter community” and “stronger academics” for his two children.

“We did have success at Carrollwood Day, but I love to build programs, and that opportunity on the baseball side was very, very inviting,” Akins said. “The thought process of putting a two-to-four year program together is extremely exciting for me.”

An initial goal is increasing overall participation for the program’s varsity roster, while establishing full-fledged junior varsity and middle school teams, said Tom Haslam, AATL’s athletic director.

The Wildcats had just 13 players on the 2018 varsity roster. Four of those players were middle-schoolers.

“We need that roster right away,” Haslam said, acknowledging that’s usually a challenge for smaller schools like AATL. “Baseball is one of the hardest sports to build because you need a number of players.

“There’s a big difference in having 13 players on your varsity roster and 20 players on your varsity roster,” he said.

Academy at the Lakes baseball celebrated its first-ever winning season with the help of a roster chock-full of young players, including, from left: freshmen Jack Teeter, Andrew Kilfoyl and Spencer Boynton. It will now look to build upon that success with new Wildcats head coach Ken Akins. (File)

To solve this dilemma, Akins said he plans to tap into baseball connections throughout Hillsborough County to find more players and encourage kids already enrolled at AATL to try out for the team.

“There’s no question that we’ve gotta build the numbers at Academy,” Akins said. “It starts with getting the Academy name out there in the community. I think spreading the word inside the hallways is a great way to get it going.”

Another designated goal for Akins is drumming up more support for an on-campus baseball field.

Last season they played their “home” games nearly 45 minutes away from the school campus, at Northwest Little League near Leto High School. They also hold practice at the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex.

“There is no question that Academy needs its own home facility,” Akins said. “You build facilities and kids will come. You put a quality facility out there and that just adds to the complete package that Academy can offer.”

Meantime, Akins is focused fielding a quality team come springtime, and, perhaps competing for district crowns in the crowded 11-team District 5-2A.

The Wildcats appear to have talent to do so someday, provided most of the players from last season return, aside from its two graduating seniors.

In 2018, the team batted a collective .347 with a .455 on-base percentage, setting a program record in about every offensive statistical category, from home runs (nine) and doubles (34), to RBIs (144), runs scored (171) and stolen bases (94).

The pitching staff combined to post a 3.94 team ERA and 179 strikeouts in 126 innings pitched that season.

“You’ve gotta buy into the program,” Akins said of building a top-notch contender. “The bottom line is the kids need to, obviously, understand what the goal is and then to be able to buy into the daily routine, which in turn, creates success.”

The school’s athletic director believes Akins is up to the task — citing his overall baseball acumen and dedication to coaching.

“He’s just a grinder,” Haslam said of the new baseball coach. “He’s one of those guys that just works hard all year round and that’s what we needed. It’s one thing to be a good coach in-between the lines, but there’s so much that a small-school high school coach has to do year-round to promote his program and build something, especially if it’s not an already established program.

“We’re not starting from scratch, but we’ve basically been in the middle of our district for the last several years, and we think Ken, with his passion and work ethic year-round, can get us to that next level and vie for district championships, consistently.”

Published July 25, 2018

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