ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg Catholic coach John Vigue has one word to describe his team.
“Resilient,” he said.
Players have dealt with death in the family. Some of their parents have cancer. Other players have struggled with injuries.
Then there is senior catcher Tito Santos.
Santos was good enough to start as a freshman. He planned to play four years for the Barons, help them win a few state titles and grab a Division I scholarship.
Then he sustained a broken collarbone the summer before his sophomore year. It healed in time for the spring, but two weeks later he tore ligaments in his right wrist. He returned for the district tournament but only to catch.
While preparing for his junior season, he tore the ligaments again. He did not play an inning last season.
This season Santos figured the injuries were behind him. But while trying to compensate for his wrist, he tore a ligament in his right elbow. He missed half the season.
Back in the lineup, Santos said there is still pain in his elbow.
“It’s killing me to throw right now,” he said.
Santos says he has until next month to make a decision about surgery but is leaning toward not having it.
Santos has played baseball since he was 4 years old, but tonight could be his last game. The pain of the past four years has been too much.
“It’s my last chance,” Santos said. “At the beginning of this season I didn’t think I was going to play at all. If I’m going to play anymore I’m going to need Tommy John (ligament replacement surgery). I don’t think I’m going to do that.
“This is probably going to be it for me.”
Santos’ teammates have stepped up their game at the right time. Since the district tournament began, the Barons (19-9-1) have outscored opponents 39-4. Junior Dakota Sarafin leads the team with a .397 average, 18 RBIs and eight doubles. Sophomore Jacob McFadden is hitting .386 with 15 RBIs, and junior Max Geller is hitting .370.
Pitching has been solid most of the season. Senior Will Gerdes, tonight’s starter, leads the way with a 4-1 record, three saves and a 0.95 ERA. Joey Saunders and Stewart Wilkes have also been steady. And Jimmy Lynch has come back from injury to be a reliable reliever.
“We’ve really pitched well all year long,” Vigue said. “We really only had two kids coming back that had any mound time. But we’ve had guys step up. The pitching has carried us to this point, and now the bats are picking it up.”
Vigue believes everything has fallen into place at the right time, in part because of a new approach. With 10 seniors and high expectations, he tried to take the pressure off.
“Two years ago we thought we had a state title team,” Vigue said. “We put pressure on them to be that team. Then we lose first game of districts. From then on we needed to change our philosophy. …This group has gone through some adversity. We’ve been telling them, hey, you make an error and that’s the worst thing that happens to you today, then that’s okay. It’s just baseball.”
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3A: West Palm Beach King’s Academy at St. Petersburg Catholic, 7
2A: Canterbury at Stuart Community Christian, 4