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LAND O’LAKES — Ask Land O’Lakes coach Calvin Baisley which of his 27 Gators teams had the best hitters and, without much hesitation, he’ll rattle off the 2000 squad that swatted nearly 50 home runs and went to the region semifinals.
“There wasn’t a weakness in that lineup,” he said.
Baisley won’t confuse his 2011 Gators lineup with its predecessor from 11 seasons earlier, but there are similarities that have the veteran coach thinking this year’s team could be one of the better hitting teams of his Gators career.
“Just like in 2000 we’re pretty solid up and down the lineup,” Baisley said. “That’s a luxury that not a lot of high schools have. Everybody in our lineup can swing the bat.”
And the Gators (6-2) can swing that bat in a variety of ways. There are power hitters Gino Pepenella and Trey McNickle, who each have two home runs through eight games. There are players who can hit for average, like Josh Nissen (.474) and Trae Urban (.441), who have some pop in their bats as well.
But mostly there are guys who know what they’re doing at the plate and are confident each time they step into the box.
“We know that it’s one of the best hitting lineups that we’ve had here in a while,” McNickle said. “We don’t really have a weak spot at any point. We know we’re going to score runs. We have four or five guys that are a threat to hit it out. The other guys are expected to get on base.”
As a team the Gators are batting .332, despite facing some of the North Suncoast’s best pitchers. Against Wiregrass Ranch’s John Michael Gant, the Gators scored four runs on six hits over five innings in an eventual 9-8 victory. A day later vs. River Ridge, the Gators pounded out four runs on eight hits off Tommy Peterson.
In an 8-7, come-from-behind victory over previously unbeaten Hernando on Tuesday, the Gators shook off a 5-0, first-inning deficit to score four runs off Brett Maggard and get back in the game before winning in the seventh.
“We didn’t dominate those guys by any means, but we held our own,” Baisley said. “I told our guys, ‘You’ve faced some of the top pitchers in the area. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to score runs on anybody we play.’ I think it gives them confidence, and a lot of hitting is confidence. They know they’ve faced good pitching before.”
There are areas for improvement to be sure. Baisley still isn’t satisfied with his team’s ability to consistently make contact. The team leaves too many runners on base. And Baisley can’t begin to count the number of times a batter has struck out with a runner on third base and fewer than two outs.
Still, these Gators can rake, and that’s the main reason they’re one of a handful of North Suncoast teams with a legitimate chance to go deep into the postseason.
“I feel like if we can hold teams to four runs, we’ve got a pretty good shot of winning because of our offense,” Baisley said.