ST. PETERSBURG — Around this time last year, Canterbury’s softball team was busy winning a Class A state championship. The Crusaders’ baseball team wasn’t so busy.
While happy for their classmates, returning members of the baseball team made mental notes. They wanted to be the ones getting pats on the back the next season before heading off to the state tournament.
For the first time, the Crusaders (18-11) have made the state baseball semifinals. They will take on Miami Westwood Christian in Port St. Lucie on Monday morning.
“Last year we felt kind of down about ourselves because softball went a lot further than we did,” Dalton Hughes said. “We’re friends with all of them and we didn’t want their season to end this year, but we’re excited that we’re still playing. This year we worked our butts off and it’s paid off.”
Hughes is one of seven seniors in Canterbury’s starting lineup. He transferred from Northside Christian after his sophomore year and immediately became the Crusaders’ starting catcher.
He has provided good defense all season, with a highlight in the region final when he gunned down two runners at second in a 5-3 extra-innings win over Stuart Community Christian. Hughes is also hitting .309 with 16 RBIs and six doubles.
“I knew the guys on the team before I got here,” Hughes said. “I knew this was going to be a good team. It’s been a good decision for me.”
Hughes has been one piece of Canterbury’s puzzle this season.
DaSean Thomas has been on the team since eighth grade and plays shortstop, first base and centerfield. He’s hitting a team-high .429 with 21 RBIs and seven doubles. Richie McClure, also a Northside Christian transfer, isn’t far behind with a .408 average and 12 doubles.
Harrison Hall and Jake Holsinger have been solid starters on the mound. Hall has a 3.23 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 47.2 innings. Holsinger leads the team with a 2.77 ERA and 49 strikeouts.
And Brent O’Neal, who will attend the Citadel next fall on a football scholarship, provides speed in the outfield and on the base paths.
“Our seniors have obviously played a big role in our success,” coach Dave Smith said. “We’ve gotten contributions from all of them.”
That’s not to say there haven’t been some bumps in the road. The Crusaders suffered through a seven-game midseason losing streak.
“All the seniors got together and we talked about how we had to pick it up,” Thomas said. “If we were going to reach our goal then we would all have to step up more.”
That has happened over the past few weeks. Canterbury got some revenge at Sarasota Christian, which knocked Canterbury out of playoff contention last season, in the region semifinals by winning 6-1.
Then came the win over Community Christian.
“Before the playoffs we started playing better,” Hughes said. “We cut down on our errors, which we had trouble with early in the year.
And we started to hit, started putting the ball in play. We ran the bases better. We’ve just cut down on the mental errors and that’s been the key.”
There is no superstar in this bunch, just a group that knows its role.
“It’s really been a collective effort,” McClure said.
Where: Digital Domain Park, Port St. Lucie
Admission: $9 per session; parking is $7
Class 2A semifinal: Miami Westwood Christian vs. Canterbury, 10 a.m. Monday
Top players: Canterbury — DaSean Thomas (.425, 21 RBIs, seven doubles); Richie McClure (.408, 18 RBIs, 12 doubles); Jake Holsinger (.392, 16 RBIs, 2.77 ERA); Steven Winesett (.375). Westwood Christian — Alex Hernandez (.473, 29 RBIs, nine home runs); Jean Carlos Cardenas (.467, 31 RBIs, 11 doubles); Anthony Penas (.459, 19 RBIs, four home runs); P Danny Garcia (2.64 ERA, 80 strikeouts).
About Westwood Christian: Since a 5-2 loss to Belen Jesuit in the final game of the regular season, the Warriors (18-5) have outscored opponents 67-8. Each of their five playoff games ended early due to the 10-run mercy rule. …Westwood Christian has a team batting average of .394. …There are four players (Jean Carlos Cardenas, Anthony Penas, Alex Hernandez and Jose Suarez) hitting over .400.
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org