East Lake’s first practice in preparation for Friday’s Class 7A state semifinal against Kissimmee Osceola started with players pulling weeds. It’s been five weeks since the Eagles have played a home game, so a little maintenance was needed.
But, hey, at least they’re still using their field in mid May.
Ever since its final home game on April 4, a 3-1 win over Countryside, East Lake has been on one long, unlikely journey. Among the highlights:
• A 1-0 win at Tarpon Springs on April 16 that clinched the PCAC north championship.
• A 3-0 win over Osceola the next night to clinch the PCAC title.
• A 2-1, eight-inning win over Pinellas Park in the Class 7A-9 district semifinals that clinched a region tournament berth.
• A 3-2 loss to Northeast in the district final that meant yet another road trip. This one was at perennial power Sarasota, where East Lake pulled off an improbable 2-1 win in 10 innings.
• A 9-0 win at Northeast in the region semifinals, the Eagles’ first win over the Vikings in four tries this season.
• A 7-3, nine-inning win at Melbourne that included a ninth-inning grand slam by Andrew Monahan, who was mostly a platoon player prior to the playoffs.
And now a trip to Fort Myers to play Osceola, which also is a district runnerup.
“It seemed like in the second half of the season we played a lot of road games and it geared us up for the run we are making,’’ senior second baseman Andrew Prozzillo said. “We had to get out of our comfort zone, and it kept us hungry and focused.’’
East Lake is making its first appearance at the state tournament since 2002, when it lost a heartbreaker in the final, 8-7 to Lynn Haven Mosely. There have been several East Lake teams since that were talented enough to get back, including this year’s team.
But throughout the season it seemed the Eagles (21-8) were finding ways to lose. There was a narrow loss to Northeast, followed by a head-scratching 6-3 loss to Largo.
There were two more losses to the Vikings and a loss to Clearwater Central Catholic. During spring break, there was a 10-0 loss to Orlando Olympia, followed by a 4-0 shutout to Pinellas Park.
“I think when we started the season we were a little overconfident,” coach Dan Genna said. “And I knew when we got into the district play we would have the big target on us. The road goes through East Lake in the district this year. We knew that. But if we are better, it’s only an eyelash better. We didn’t hit early and we almost had to get our butts kicked. Those losses made the team hungrier.
“We didn’t panic. We had to go through those growing pains. Every season is different. We had to get an identity.”
The identity became lights-out pitching and just enough hitting.
Right-hander Brad Deppermann (5-3, 0.98 ERA) took control on the mound. He threw seven innings against Sarasota, giving up only one run. He shut out Northeast the next week, allowing only three hits. He will start against Osceola on Friday night.
“Whenever we have Dep on the hill we feel confident we can win,” senior shortstop Keegan Maronpot said.
Steven Plaskett has been just as reliable. He has a 0.73 ERA in 38 innings pitched, all in relief. He shut down Melbourne for six innings to earn the win.
Ryan Wall and Cameron Churchill can both be used as starters or relievers should East Lake make Saturday’s final.
“With our pitching staff, we knew we would get better,” Maronpot said. “Our hitting had to get better eventually. I think we all felt that we were in a good spot.”
Maronpot, a Wake Forest commit, leads the team with a .430 average and nine doubles. Deppermann is hitting .359, and Monahan .312 with two big home runs.
Maronpot said the team never doubted it could go far in the playoffs. But he admitted there were more than a few players’-only meetings before regionals.
“We had to crack down on a few things,” he said.
East Lake brings a quiet confidence to Fort Myers. Maronpot remembers last season being in class watching a live stream of his friends at Clearwater Central Catholic playing in the state semifinals.
Now his team will take center stage.
“Actually, looking back on it, I’m glad that we lost (in the district final),” Maronpot. “As a senior, I definitely wanted to win a district championship. But since we didn’t, it kept me going. I’m not just going to be happy with a district championship. If we’re not going to win districts, then we might as well win a state title.”
Class 7A: Kissimmee Osceola vs. East Lake
When/where: 7 p.m. Friday; JetBlue Park, Fort Myers
Admission: $9 per day; parking is $8.