SEFFNER — Quite literally, Armwood will be one of the last teams to take the field for the state baseball tournament.
The Hawks' Class 5A semifinal, tonight against Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, is the 17th of 18 games at Port St. Lucie's Digital Domain Park. The first pitch will be thrown five full days after Tampa Catholic — another state tourney entrant — arrived and left.
In a sense, the timing couldn't be more appropriate. When it comes to late arrivals, no one was more fashionable in 2010 than Mike Wrenn's club. Some would even suggest this Hawks team, the one that knocked off nationally ranked Lake Wales in the region finals, didn't show up until, oh, about a month ago.
At that point, Armwood, coming off a 26-6 season that resulted in the program's first final four berth, was 12-9 and reeling from consecutive losses in the Saladino Tournament. Intensity at practices was sporadic. Little things were being overlooked. So were some opponents.
"A month ago I thought we were making some strides. A month and a half ago? No, absolutely not," said Wrenn, who returned five everyday players, including three pitchers who had tallied at least 20 innings, from his '09 team.
"I was just harping and harping and harping, and I just got to a point where I said, 'All right, fellas, you know what? You've heard me yell a lot, now it's just gonna be up to you guys. That's all I can do.' "
Taking Wrenn's cue, the seniors — notably pitcher/shortstop Zack Powers and outfielder/pitcher Tyler "T.A." Alexander — assembled their teammates in an aluminum shed, which doubles as the team's locker room, behind Armwood's third-base dugout. For five minutes, the seniors said their piece.
"Everybody listened," Alexander said. "Everybody zoned in. Nobody was joking around; everybody took everything serious."
That was in mid April. The Hawks (19-9) haven't lost since.
"It really took the whole season for these guys to kind of come together and understand what they needed to do as a team," said Wrenn, whose team enters the final four on a seven-game win streak. "Are we all the way there? To be honest, I don't think so. Have we made vast improvements? Absolutely."
Improvement hasn't come without a symphony of pep talks. When Wrenn felt his players needed to hear another voice, he got Jodi Fameree, a team parent who had coached several Hawks at the youth level, to speak to the club. Armwood alumnus Kevin Clark, a former sixth-round draft choice of the Colorado Rockies who works out at the school, "got on their butts a little bit," Wrenn said.
But coincidentally or not, the win streak started the game after that players-only meeting, when the Hawks collected 11 hits in a 7-4 win against Sickles.
The District 8 tournament, where Armwood's early season struggles had relegated it to a No. 4 seed, followed.
In the semifinals against Durant, Powers struck out 15 and Alexander belted a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth to rally the Hawks to a 3-2 triumph.
Two nights later, junior Josh Spano pitched five solid innings and went 4-for-4 with a two-run homer to lift Armwood to a 7-4 win against Plant City in the final. Alexander added a three-run homer.
Last week against 26-win Lake Wales, Alexander saved things for Powers, recording the final five outs and holding off a three-run Highlanders rally in the sixth for a 4-3 triumph.
"Toward the beginning of the year, we were underestimating our opponents. We were just taking everything lackadaisical and (acting) like we could play any time we wanted to and just flip on a switch," said Powers (7-1, 1.58 ERA), a University of Florida signee who likely starts on the mound today.
"But we realized we couldn't flip a switch; we've got to play hard all the time and take every opponent like that's going to be our last game."