Spartans stay the course; more hits

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 3/23/22

JACKSONVILLE - St. Johns Country Day School baseball took the reigns of their 2021 baseball team and engineered a storybook ending that, unfortunately, fell a game short in the Class 2A championship …

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Spartans stay the course; more hits

Posted

JACKSONVILLE - St. Johns Country Day School baseball took the reigns of their 2021 baseball team and engineered a storybook ending that, unfortunately, fell a game short in the Class 2A championship game.

2022, with most of that powerhouse lineup still on the field for one more shot, is coach Tom Lucas’ responsiblity to harness whatever happened last year and get the same result plus one.

“We stay with the same basic principles of being prepared and being ready,” said Lucas, now 6-1 with a recent blowout win over Bolles behind a two homer night by senior Brad Hodges. “This is a veteran, experienced lineup and we sometimes have to knock them down a bit, practice hard and make them continue to work to improve, then show up at the game and tell them they are invincible.”

Lucas, with a tenure of building success step by step, cited his senior guys as the driving force of the momentum.

“This is the best culture of a team that I have ever been a part of because they push each other every day; game and practice,” said Lucas, citing Hodges, Finn Howell, Jordan Taylor, Tyce Moore, Dalton Moore and Cooper Hunt, all seniors on the Spartans roster, as embracing his philosophy and putting it on the field. “We went to LaGrange against really good competition and hit like .400 as a team. We played Buford (top-ranked in Georgia with Gatorade player of year pitcher) which is one of the best teams, but did not get to face their best pitcher because he pitched the day before. The team was excited to face him.”

In their early Georgia visit, the 2A-Spartans faced off against three southeastern USA powers including 6A-Madison Central (Mississippi 6A state champion, USA champions, 34-2 last year), Houston County (Georgia 6A state champ, 33-7 last year, five state titles since 2014), LaGrange (4A, 21-12 last year, eight Final Fours since 2004 3A state title) and Buford and came home with three wins and a thrilling 8-7 loss to still-unbeaten (14-0, third ranked USA; 32-2 last year) 6A-Buford, the state runnerup last year).

“We didn’t see Lesko (Buford pitcher Dylan Lesko, Gatorage National Baseball Player of Year), but they threw a guy going to the University of Miami,” said Lucas. “They hit it really well the whole visit, no complaints.”

Hodges has been the solid leader in the batter’s box (.586, 10 hits, two doubles, five homers), with junior shortstop Shawn Andrade (.448, 13 hits, eight singles, four doubles, one homer) being Lucas’ surprise player thus far.

“He has worked his butt off to be in the lineup and be right up there with Brad,” said Lucas. “As a 10th grader last year, he just grinded his way into the lineup as a right fielder even though he just committed to University of South Florida as an infielder.”

Lucas credited graduated Connor Moore, now at Florida State University, with instilling the Spartan work ethic last year into the younger guys.

“Connor would stay and work with Shawn in the batting cage and he put that team pride to keep improving in him and he took to it,” said Lucas. “All these guys like each other and hang out together and that’s a big plus. We have few young guys; Kyle Boylston, Kody Daneault, both young players who we felt could fill the open spots from last year. Isaiah Mameo has had a big bat so far even though he is a pitcher commit to South Florida.”

For the rest of the 2022 season, Lucas is focused on batting prowess and smart baserunning tactics.

“We had power last year and we lost a lot of that with a bunch of home run hitters, but this year we knew we were going to be a different team,” said Lucas. “We don’t have as much pop, but we will have more average and get people on base. We are better at the line drives and putting the ball in play. We struck out a bunch last year. We either hit homers or struck out.”

St. Johns gets a gauntlet of games to finish the regular season with a possible replay of a game against Fleming Island postponed by rain, but the Spartans facing the likes of Clay (8-1), Trinity Christian, Episcopal, Providence and Oakleaf.

“Trinity is going to give us all we want in our new district,” said Lucas, who saw a Trinity 3-0 win over Oakleaf recently. “Trinity has our attention. We will both be in the playoffs.”

Lucas’ upcoming schedule includes four games in nine days; Providence, Oakleaf, Trinity Christian and, finally, Clay (8-3) on Thurs., March 31.

“The Clay game is always a good rivalry and they are hitting real well now,” said Lucas. “We have Trinity two days prior to the Clay game and that will dictate our starting lineup.”

Clay returned home from a Tampa weekend that included a 6-2 loss to unbeaten Berkeley Prep (3A region finals last year) and a 3-2 loss to Tampa Catholic (3A region semis last year).

The Blue Devils face Trinity Christian (6-3) on Thurs., March 24 and Bartram Trail (5-5, March 19 6-5 loss to Berkeley Prep) on Fri., March 25 before hosting the Spartans on Thurs., March 31.

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