One year apart, on the same field and with many of the same players on the roster, the Rockledge High baseball team experienced what coach Greg Clayborne called “the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows.”
Two years ago, the Raiders knocked off the No. 2 team in the nation at the time, Archbishop McCarthy, to advance to the state tournament. Last year, they lost in the first round to a Umatilla team they had beaten by 11 runs the previous postseason.
“You can’t just come out and expect to win,” senior pitcher Drew Parrish said. “Honestly, I just think we weren’t really focused.”
Rockledge has less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, including a double-header on Wednesday at home against Barren County High of Glasgow, Kentucky, beginning at 4 p.m. The Raiders will have to earn their regional spot by finishing among the top two in the District 13-6A tournament the following week, and the FHSAA playoffs will begin April 27.
Clayborne believes this year’s team, led by 10 seniors, has been well-prepared for whatever may come.
The Raiders have been ranked as high as fifth in the nation by Max Preps. They are 17-1 and currently No. 17, experiencing their only loss at a four-day tournament hosted by IMG Academy during spring break. There, the team went 3-1 against top competition.
“From an experience standpoint, playing in the IMG tournament was big,” Clayborne said. “Every team there was not just capable of beating us but was capable of embarrassing us if we didn’t play well.”
There was a loss, 4-3, but no embarrassment. Christian Brothers of Memphis, Tennessee., beat the Raiders, who in turn defeated Dwyer, Osceola and Jesuit of Carmichael, California.
Included among what lies ahead if things go as planned could be another meeting with Archbishop McCarthy, 20-1 and again ranked second in the nation. The 2-1 playoff win over the Ft. Lauderdale school in 2014 was significant not only because of the Mavericks’ rank, but also because its the only postseason loss for the team since 2009.
Rockledge was the only hiccup in what would otherwise be a six-year run of McCarthy state titles.
That night, Mason Studstill started on the mound and struck out six batters before now-graduated Austin Dennis relieved him and struck out four more on the way to the win.
Studstill, Parrish and fellow senior Brady Martello are the three main starters for the Raiders this season. Studstill and Parrish were 6-0 as of last week, and pitching has been the strength of the team.
Parrish had 61 strikeouts and a 0.41 earned run average. Studstill was at 69 and a 0.90 ERA. Martello, 2-1, had a 1.33 ERA.
“Certainly, the pitching gives us a chance to be in a game with anybody,” Clayborne said.
While that’s the strength, the Raiders also have six batters at .362 or better, led by Parrish at .525. He, Studstill, Kevin Clanton and Gavin Spinneweber all had double-digit RBIs.
Beyond the core starters, the team had an opportunity to improve on its depth at IMG. In addition to its top two second basemen being unable to play there, its pitching was stretched.
“Several of our early-season games didn’t go but five innings, but when you play 28 innings in four days, you’re going to have to go to your bullpen,” Clayborne said. “The depth was tested.”
The Raiders also were tested as a group, but it wasn’t the first time. Studstill, one of several on the team who played on the Rockledge Little League team that won a Junior League World Series in 2012, has learned the lessons of winning and losing. He’s eager to apply them as the playoffs approach.
“We have to take intensity into every game,” he said. “We’re a senior led team, and I don’t think any of those guys that played in the loss to Umatilla want to let it happen again.”
Contact McCallum at 321-242-3698 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Brian_McCallum and at facebook.com/FLtoday.brianmccallum.