TAMPA — About the same time it caught on as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s collective creed, the phrase “all in” had been adopted by Cambridge Christian’s baseball team as its 2011 rallying cry.
Had the Lancers looked to the NFL, they may have found a more fitting mantra.
Something like “Who dat?”
If nothing else, the Lancers led Hillsborough County in obscurity. One of their three seniors had no career varsity starts. Another had no scholarship prospects. Their coach, meantime, had no delusions.
“You see a lot of guys in other programs that commit early,” first-year coach and former Jesuit right-handed ace Sam Marsonek said. “If you saw these (three) guys a year ago, two years ago, you would’ve been like, ‘They’re not committing anywhere.’ ”
Today, the long-term futures of catcher Andrew Widell, rightfielder Jordan Lewis and shortstop Zac Gilcrease are secure. Their short-term future, meantime, is surreal.
A year after losing nearly half their roster to graduation, the Lancers (16-12) are a victory from the Class A state tournament.
“You can’t replace all the guys we lost last year, but for the most part we’ve done a pretty good job,” said Widell, who leads the team in six major offensive categories and will play next season at State College of Florida (formerly Manatee Community College).
“As you see right now, we’re not the biggest, we’re pretty small, but we’ve got heart.”
On a roster featuring no player bigger than Gilcrease (6-foot-2, 175 pounds), the effort clearly has been collaborative.
Gilcrease’s younger brother Levi is a budding star in center, and junior Spencer Wynn’s seamless transition from leftfield to shortstop — when the elder Gilcrease injured his hip late in the regular season — was critical.
But even Marsonek concurs the key has been the seniors’ evolution from no-names to nucleus.
“It was more about hard work,” he said.
Widell, a starter since eighth grade, was the only senior with any type of cred among colleges. Gilcrease, widely known as “Gilly,” had hit .407 with 32 RBIs as a junior but couldn’t get a sniff from the next level.
“I’ve always been a good fielder,” Gilcrease said, “but the bat wasn’t always there, so I was more of a slap hitter.”
And in three previous seasons at Tampa Catholic, Lewis never started a game.
“He needed a GPS to run the bases, like (Marsonek) has said before, and in the outfield you didn’t know if he was going to catch the ball or what was going to happen,” Widell said of Lewis. “He’d do circles around it then go and make the play.”
Gradually, scouts began circling Doc Nance Field.
Gilcrease (.382, 24 RBIs), who remains sidelined for Friday’s Class A region semifinal at West Palm Beach Summit Christian, worked out six days a week in the offseason and added 15 pounds. Later this week, he’ll choose between USF and Wake Forest.
Lewis, who acknowledges he arrived from TC with far more bravado than playing time, signed this week with Lakeland’s Southeastern University. Having discovered the game’s nuances while losing his ego, he enters Friday’s game as the team’s hottest hitter (4-for-7, one home run, three RBIs in postseason).
Suddenly, TC — not to mention anonymity — seems so far away.
“Yeah,” Widell concurs, “we came out of nowhere.”
Games Friday at 7 p.m. unless noted. Admission is $6.
6A: Orlando Dr. Phillips at Alonso
5A: Durant vs. Lakeland at Joker Marchant Stadium
4A: Jesuit vs. Estero at Florida Gulf Coast University
3A: Tampa Catholic at Fort Myers Bishop Verot
2A: Shorecrest vs. Brooks-DeBartolo at Freedom High
A: Cambridge at West Palm Beach Summit Christian, 4