When it comes to playoff baseball, Countryside doesn’t have the best history.
Before this season the Cougars had won one district championship, in 1998.
Last season Countryside appeared to be a district contender, only to lose to Clearwater in the first round of the tournament.
But this season history did not repeat itself.
The Cougars got past Pinellas Park 2-0 in the Class 7A, District 10 semifinals. Then they played the best game of their season in a 3-0 win over top-seeded Seminole.
“We have a banner now,” junior shortstop/pitcher Charlie Skantze said. “It feels great.”
Countryside (17-10) hosts Wiregrass Ranch (17-9) at 7 Thursday in a region quarterfinal. In their last region appearance in 2011, the Cougars lost to Plant in the first round.
Coach Kemo O’Sullivan thinks this year’s team, in spite of its hardships, might have something special.
The Cougars have been hit with injuries to starting third baseman Brendan Stevens (broken finger), centerfielder Ray Hansen (broken jaw), rightfielder Tommy Labella (broken finger) and outfielder Robbie Robicheau (arm injury).
Skantze has been playing through a sore arm that kept him off the mound for more than a month. And outfielder Kevin Rosinski has been battling a wrist injury that cost him two weeks in the middle of the season.
“Not one word was said by our team,” O’Sullivan said. “Nobody complained or used it as an excuse. They just carry on.”
The Cougars have been getting production when they need it.
Senior Jake Mielock, a reliable starter, is 6-3 in 59 1/3 innings and has a 0.94 ERA. Rosinski is hitting .437 despite the wrist injury. Junior Christian Townsend is hitting .362 and was the winning pitcher in the district final. He is 4-4 with a 2.35 ERA after changing his pitching motion near the end of the season.
“(Townsend) was coming from up top and was kind of flat,” O’Sullivan said. “(Pitching coach Kyle Leja) got him coming more from down low with a two-seamer, and there you go.
“In a matter of a month and a half, he dropped down and just beat a very good hitting team (Seminole).”
Townsend said the change took some time.
“At first it was really weird,” he said. “Changing arm angles isn’t the easiest thing to do. I had to learn multiple pitches. I had a slider, changeup and the two-seamer from the side.”
Injuries have forced O’Sullivan to use just about every player on his roster. That depth showed against Seminole in the district final.
A prime example came in the seventh inning, when O’Sullivan took Skantze off shortstop to pitch with one out and one on. Skantze was replaced by senior Bobby Held, who lost his starting job during the season.
Sure enough, Seminole’s Alex McGathey hit a bullet to Held. He calmly fielded the grounder, flipped to second baseman Johnathan Feibus, who threw to first for the district-clinching double play.
“(Held) had a starting job and he lost it,” O’Sullivan said. “He has a positive attitude. He said to the team, ‘Hey, I had my chance and I lost it.’ He’s always working hard, comes off the bench and makes it happen. That’s a team. You gotta love it.”
There were bumps in the road during the regular season — two losses to Seminole, losses to Calvary Christian, Clearwater Central Catholic, Tarpon Springs and Osceola.
But the Cougars did not give up a run in the district tournament and take plenty of momentum into Thursday’s quarterfinal.
“We’ve had some problems in the regular season, but when it was time to play our guys showed up,” Townsend said.