TAMPA — This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Tampa Prep, one following a trip to the state semifinals and the graduation of seven seniors.
But the biggest — and most surprising — loss came in January when longtime coach A.J. Hendrix announced he had taken ill and would not be able to coach his young team this spring.
So these are different Terrapins, with only two seniors, two freshmen and a different voice leading them for the first time in 14 years.
One thing hasn’t changed: They’re still district champions.
Matt Hodges pitched three innings of one-hit relief, Luis Medina went 2-for-2 with two RBIs and Tampa Prep won its second straight District 3A-8 title Friday night, 6-4 over Brooks DeBartolo.
“The transition has been easier because we haven’t changed the way we do things,” said John DeTringo, acting head coach and longtime assistant for the Terrapins.
Tampa Prep (19-8) has won 11 of its past 12, a late-season surge that dovetails neatly with the emergence of Medina as the team’s top offensive force.
Medina, a freshman, was hitting .667 in the previous 10 games before the district final and almost certainly improved on that number with his performance against Brooks DeBartolo (10-11).
After walking and doubling in his first two at-bats Friday, Medina’s RBI single in the bottom of the fourth gave the Terrapins a 5-4 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“I had some butterflies earlier,” said Medina, who went 6-for-6 in the district tournament. “But after I got that first walk, I settled down a little.”
“He’s not like any freshman we’ve ever had,” DeTringo said. “You can’t get a ball by him right now.”
That left it up to Hodges, a sophomore, to hold the lead after he replaced starter Watson Ransom in the fifth.
Hodges shut down the Phoenix in the final three innings, allowing only a two-out double in the fifth. He retired the next seven batters to complete the game, giving renewed life to the legend of “Matt Time.”
“When he came in for save situations earlier in the year, his teammates made a joke of it and would call it ‘Matt Time,’ ” DeTringo said. “And again, he did a great job closing it out on the mound today.”
Among all those new faces, a familiar one showed up to watch the Terrapins claim their fourth district title since 2008.
It was Hendrix, who waited near the dugout after the trophy presentation. He has been to only a handful of games this year as he recovers from pancreatitis.
Hendrix remained a low-key presence even after the game, staying away from pictures and the onfield celebration. He made only one demand of his team before taking leave: Don’t win for me; win for yourselves.
Of course, there’s a difference voice in the dugout now. He wouldn’t hear of it.
“Don’t tell him we won it for him,” DeTringo said. “He won’t be happy with it.”