With 10 seniors graduated from last year’s 19-9 team and 15 new players, East Lake coach Dan Genna had some rebuilding to do this season. One of the first things he did was hand out black T-shirts to his players with a one-word slogan in big, white letters on the back: TEAM.
The second thing he did was take the team to a rope training facility in nearby Trinity. Players shimmied up walls, swung from obstacle to obstacle, and tested their fear of heights.
“Team chemistry was a main concern this year,” said Genna, who is in his third year as coach. “I think this year we’ve really grown up as a team. A lot of the kids have been together for three years now. They’re to the point where they’ll sell out for each other.”
The team concept is working. East Lake is 9-1 (4-0 in 8A-8) after an 11-5 district win over North Port last Friday. (A rivalry game against Dunedin on Tuesday was rained out and rescheduled for April 15.) The lone loss was a 12-2 thumping at nationally ranked Jesuit.
“So that’s our one loss for the year, now we move on,” senior centerfielder Troy Strominger said. “We want to win the district, move on to regionals and win the state tournament. That’s all we’re thinking about now.”
Judging by the first third of the season, that may not be out of the question. East Lake has quality wins over Seminole, Sarasota Riverview and Palm Harbor University.
The Eagles are getting offense from senior catcher Grant Hodges (.481), Strominger (.444), Brad Deppermann (.375) and Keegan Maronpot (.308 with a grand slam vs. Seminole).
Pitching has been even better. While Deppermann ran into trouble against Jesuit, he still has 20 strikeouts in 16 innings. Cameron Churchill has a 1.08 ERA and Ryan Wall has a 0.62 ERA in 11 innings.
Senior Dante Valenti also proved a good reliever against Jesuit, going four innings and giving up no runs.
“We’re all just trying to do our part,” senior second baseman Doug Rovello said. “We’re not trying to make ourselves look good. So far, it’s working.”
The tough part now is keeping the ball rolling. The Eagles are sure to get opponents’ top pitchers for the rest of the season. As long as the defense and pitching holds up, they should survive even if the bats cool down.
“I think at the beginning of the year people underestimated us a little bit,” said Rovello, who missed last year with a broken collarbone. “We lost our best pitcher, Eric Hanhold, who is now at Florida. We weren’t that good hitting-wise last year. But now that we’re off to this start we’re going to get everyone’s best pitcher.
“We know we’re not going to win every game, but we think we can. But no matter what, after every game we’re always thinking about the next game.”