Baseball: Perfect start pits Land O'Lakes vs. complacency

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Mon. March 11, 2013 | Matt Baker | Email

Baseball: Perfect start pits Land O'Lakes vs. complacency

LAND O’LAKES — Calvin Baisley was satisfied but hardly ecstatic after his Land O’Lakes team wrapped up last week’s ugly but gritty 9-6 win over rival Sunlake.

The defense was sloppy. The seventh inning was messy. The pitching started out so-so.

And another victory on the scoreboard added another piece of concern to perhaps the Gators’ biggest problem going forward: The perfect record that threatens to turn teenagers’ consistency into complacency.

“I’m fighting that right now ...” Baisley said. “They’re happy. They come to practice. They want to work. They’ve been successful. I told them we’ve got to get better. Everybody wants to beat us, and we’ve got to get better.”

The targets on the bull’s-eye on the Gators’ backs are good problems to have for Baisley, who can’t remember another 10-0 start in his 29 years as the program’s head coach.

The biggest keys — last week’s victory over the Seahawks not withstanding — have been defense and pitching. Land O’Lakes has allowed more than two runs in only two games while surrendering 10 earned runs. Aside from a rough finish against Seahawks, the Gators have committed only seven errors.

Seniors Jake Rawls and Zachary Whitaker have formed one of the best pitching duos in the North Suncoast. They’ve each posted one shutout, and Rawls hasn’t allowed an earned run in four appearances. Whitaker is 4-0 with three times as many strikeouts (29) as walks (eight).

None of the Gators’ five pitchers have an ERA worse than 2.76, and they are barely allowing more than one baserunner per inning while shutting out four opponents.

“Our pitching’s good right now,” said senior infielder Dylan Harris, a Saint Leo recruit.

And the offense isn’t bad, either. Land O’Lakes has seven players with batting averages better than .300 and at least a dozen at-bats.

Senior Josh Nissen ranks among Pasco County’s leaders with a .594 average. He and Harris have both batted in 12 runs and drawn praise from Baisley as all-around talents.

“They’re the glue in the infield,” Baisley said. “They get on base for us. They score runs. They steal bases. They bunt when they have to. Those two guys are baseball players. They set the table for us. We go how they go.”

Harris credited part of the Gators’ success to offseason workouts. The extra time in the weight room has added physical and emotional strength to a lineup that has grown close off the field.

Last month’s signature win — a 2-1 squeaker against Class 6A, District 10 rival Mitchell — showed another big component to the Gators’ success.

Land O’Lakes got four hits off of Florida State commit Cobi Johnson and scored one of the two earned runs Johnson has allowed all season to take a 2-0 lead. The Gators allowed only three hits and shut the Mustangs out in the final five innings to take an early lead in the district standings.

“I think something that’s really underrated is, these guys are competitors,” Baisley said. “They don’t want to lose. They come to play. The better the competition, they step up to it.”

Baisley’s analysis will be tested plenty in the next month before the district tournament. Land O’Lakes faces River Ridge on Tuesday night before a rematch against Mitchell on Friday. Challenges against Wesley Chapel, Ridgewood, Wiregrass Ranch, Springstead and Hernando still loom.

For now, Baisley is content with the challenge of building on perfection and the best start he has ever had.

“Ten games. Ten wins,” Baisley said. “I’ll take it.”

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