TAMPA — Two years ago, Tino Martinez called his brother-in-law, USF baseball coach Lelo Prado, raving about a high school kid who had helped stymie nationally ranked Jesuit.
The former major-leaguer had just watched his alma mater, Jefferson High School, win the Dragons’ first district title since 2005. The win came courtesy of Jimmy Herget, a tall, lean sophomore pitcher who limited mighty Jesuit to six hits over seven innings.
“Tino called Lelo, and said, ‘You’ve got to come get him,’ ” said Jefferson coach Pop Cuesta, who coached Martinez when he was at the school. “So, Jimmy was taken care of right there.”
Added Prado of Martinez’s recommendation: “I think he knows who can play at this level. We knew about Jimmy, and Tino told us, ‘Hey, this guy competes.’ ”
Now a senior, Herget is the ace of the Dragons’ staff with his 1.04 ERA, .149 opposing teams batting average and 70 strikeouts through 47 innings (he also leads the team with 18 RBIs).
And Jefferson (19-5) has a pretty good second option on the mound with senior Corbin Olmstead holding batters to a .127 average, striking out 60 in 57 innings of work for a 1.23 ERA.
Both pitchers stand 6 feet 3, though Olmstead has about 60 pounds on Herget. Cuesta has referred to Olmstead as “the big man”— and Herget, listed at 155 pounds, has his nickname, Slim, written on the right sleeve of his practice shirt.
“We’ll try to do everything in our power to put a couple pounds on him,” Prado said with a laugh. “We’ve got to put a little meet on him, but that will happen with age.”
In similar fashion to Herget, Olmstead used another win over Jesuit, a district rivalry that ended last year but dated to the 1940s, to mark his own rise through the ranks of Hillsborough County’s elite.
“It was about getting some revenge,” Olmstead said of his turn against the Tigers in last year’s district finals. “When they got me in the district tournament, I figured they would probably underestimate me a little bit. That’s when I developed my slider and ended up getting 12 Ks and almost throwing a no-hitter.”
Olmstead, who also plays third base and leads Jefferson with a .373 average, is staying in Florida for college as well, choosing North Florida over the likes of Penn, Harvard and Dartmouth, among others.
“I love Florida and I love my family, I wanted to go away just because I want to get the experience of being on my own, and so I gave it a lot of thought,” said Olmstead, also Jefferson’s valedictorian.
“Ivy League, though, what really helped influence my decision was the fact that I would have had to hold down a work study job to attain my financial aid. I felt like I would have been a little overwhelmed as a freshman there, first time being away from home. And then North Florida, I went up there for an official visit and fell in love with the campus and the coaching staff.”
Before either leaves Jefferson, though, he’d like to accomplish a feat that has eluded Cuesta and the Dragons since 1985 — a trip to the state tournament.
Cuesta, who has coached at Jefferson 41 years, has gone only once, when Martinez was on the field alongside fellow future major-leaguer Luis Gonzalez. While Jefferson had sprung two huge upsets to beat Jesuit the past two years to win the district, the efforts went for naught when Lakewood Ranch sent the Dragons home in the next round.
This year, there is no Jesuit in the district tournament, as the Tigers dropped down a classification with the new realignment. Jefferson went 9-1 in district play — the only loss came against Strawberry Crest when Herget threw a one-hitter — and will host the Class 6A, District 11 starting today.
“We’ve played well like last year. And the year before,” Cuesta said. “The biggest thing that we’re faced with every year is that when you get to the playoffs, a bad call, a bad hop, the failure to execute a bunt, it just takes one and you’re gone.”
But this year’s Dragons have already shown a knack for winning championships. Prior to this season, Jefferson had won the Saladino Tournament only once (in 1991) in the event’s 32 years.
But after Herget pitched another one-hitter in the semifinals — he also caught a line drive with his bare hand to end a late-inning threat — and Olmstead pitched his second complete game in four days, the Dragons walked away with the title in mid March.
And Olmstead and Herget left with half a promise fulfilled.
“We were joking around before the Saladino Tournament, saying that whichever one of us gets the final in this,” Olmstead said, “the other one gets the final in the state game.”
Laura Keeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.