TAMPA — The main objective of a leadoff hitter is to get on base. But in eight games, King centerfielder Sey Juan Lawrence hadn’t done much of that.
He had just two hits and three walks among 32 plate appearances. Lawrence, who had been hitting in the cages daily, was frustrated. But Lions coach James Macaluso wasn’t worried.
“We’ve said, ‘You’re going to stay right there,’ ” Macaluso said about the leadoff spot. “ ‘Just keep working.’ ”
It didn’t take long into Thursday’s matchup with Leto for the coach’s confidence to pay dividends. In his first at-bat, Lawrence tripled, setting the pace in a 6-1 win. The Lions (9-0) are the only undefeated team in Hillsborough County.
Lawrence, who reached base three times, said he felt a sense of relief the moment the ball hit his bat on the triple. But he wasn’t finished.
The 5-foot-8 sophomore hit his triple to left-centerfield. So when he stepped to the plate in the second inning, Leto (5-3) shifted its outfielders toward left-centerfield.
So he went right.
Lawrence sent a 3-and-2 pitch to right-centerfield, deep enough for a double that drove in Kobe Barnum.
“I noticed (the shift),” he said. “I was trying to get it over there because he thought I was going to hit it (left). I had to use the whole field.”
Six Lions combined for nine hits, third baseman Bubby Terp and second baseman Tylon Valdez-Freeman also recording two hits.
King left-hander Tyeler Checkley struck out seven and gave up six hits in six innings. The Falcons’ only run — scored by Rodney Jackson on a Jonaton Alverez single to right — was unearned.
The Lions returned a lot of talent from last year’s team, which reached its second state semifinal in four years. One of Macaluso’s prized returners was Lawrence, who hit .293. When there’s a deep fly ball, Macaluso said he never doubts Lawrence will be under it.
“We tell our pitchers … throw strikes and let them swing the bats,” he said. “We’re going to catch the ball for you.”
Thursday, Macaluso had even more to smile about when it came to his quick centerfielder. Because once again, he was not just a threat in one phase of the game, but two.
“A lot of times, guys let (slumps) affect their defense, and then you’re not helping at all. But he hasn’t done that,” Macaluso said. “And he swung the bat tonight, so that’s all good.”