To say Ida Baker’s baseball season came to a crashing halt last season may be a bit of an understatement. After starting 8-0, the Bulldogs were listless with their season on the line in a District 6A-11 semifinal and were no hit.
The club has moved on, but it’s hard not to draw comparisons with this Baker team (13-2) and the last. Once again led by strong pitching, the Bulldogs ripped off 10 straight wins to start this season, followed by two consecutive district losses.
The difference, coach Bob VanDeventer says, is he has a team that is more mentally tough and hitting at a better clip than in any of his four years at the helm.
VanDeventer, who previously coached Mariner for 14 season before coming to Baker, has seen just how easy it is for a team to start pressing at the wrong time.
“The worry of the coach is we lose sight of what we did to get to 10-0,” VanDeventer said. “What we did early was everyone playing their part, filling their role, everybody being a team. The worry is them putting the pressure on themselves thinking they’ve got to be the hero every night.”
That’s exactly what happened to Baker last season after its staff carried it all season with a 1.79 ERA. It was playing with fire, hitting .210 as a club, and got the matchup it didn’t want against Port Charlotte ace Matt LePoint.
“It was a worrisome game. It was a matchup that we knew if we got it was going to be a tough game,” VanDeventer said. “We thought if we could get through that we could make a run. That’s the scary part of this sport, if you get one bad matchup – you could be 25-0 and you get one bad matchup – and it’s over.”
The ending wasn’t what the Bulldogs deserved. However, senior catcher Gabe Villaverde didn’t think they earned Baker’s first trip to the postseason since 2013 either.
He and his teammates are still chasing the regional playoff berth. And again the table is set with the area’s strongest pitching staff in a district that doesn’t include defending state champion Venice but does include plenty of geographic rivalries.
“It’s a different kind of animal,” VanDeventer said. “The district games are heightened as it is. But throw in a school that’s 3 minutes away, another school that’s 5 minutes away and another school that’s 6 minutes away and it’s Cape Coral (High) and they’ve played with each other since they’re 5 years old. It adds the element of ‘I want to show them.’”
The first-place Bulldogs got a taste of that in a 12-inning loss to Mariner followed by a loss to Island Coast last week.
“You can’t get your head down,” Villaverde said. “You’ve got to keep going. You can’t do anything about the two losses. You’ve got to get up in the district, rack up some wins, make sure you’re in a good spot.”
Starting pitchers Chris Schrowe and Bryce Van Horn make up a 1-2 punch in the district that is unmatched, posting sub-1.00 ERAs with a combined 62 strikeouts. And senior Christian Menendez has filled in admirably for graduated standout closer Jordan Pinto in the late innings.
Van Horn said the staff has emphasized hitting its spots and throwing first-pitch strikes to put themselves in good position early in counts.
“We know what we’re going to get from them every game,” Villaverde said of the pitching staff. “They’re not going to give up a lot of runs, they’re going to go a lot of innings, they’re going to keep us in the game. So, basically, if the bats produce, we’re going to get a win.”
The bats are trending upward with a solid two-strike approach and a goal of at least making productive outs. Led by junior Luke Endsley, the Bulldogs are hitting .288, way up from .217 in 2014 and last season.
“Where the pitch is thrown just go with it. Don’t try to do too much,” Villaverde said. “If it’s thrown away, just go with it. Good things happen when you put the ball in play.”
Scoring four or five runs a game will make life a lot easier for VanDeventer. Baker has done just that in three straight wins over East Lee County, Island Coast last week and Riverdale on Monday.
The way things are going, a repeat of last year doesn’t appear to be in the cards.