SEFFNER — For Armwood's Mark Mahoney, the 2010 season actually began in the summer of 2009.
Mahoney, a rising sophomore at the time, had always primarily been a catcher. Sure, he'd played a bit all over the diamond in youth ball, but catching was where Mahoney thought his future lay. With junior Josh Spano entrenched behind the plate, though, Armwood coach Mike Wrenn approached Mahoney about moving to third base. The position switch may have only been 90 feet up the diamond, but for Mahoney it seemed like a country mile.
"I had always been real comfortable catching, and that's where I see myself ending up one day," Mahoney said. "But Josh wasn't going anywhere, and it was a chance to play more."
So Mahoney traded his shin guards for a third baseman's mitt and set out to learn his new position. It wasn't as simple as picking up a new glove. There was a lot Mahoney needed to improve.
He started with a jump rope.
"I need to get my feet quicker," he said. "At catcher you just mainly drop to your knees and block the ball. At third, there's a lot more footwork."
So Mahoney jumped and hopped and skipped all summer. By the time fall baseball rolled around, the Hawks had a new third baseman.
"Considering how little time he had to learn the position, he's been great for us at third this year," Wrenn said. "All (our sophomores) have contributed big time."
Wrenn's group of 10th-graders have played an integral part in the Hawks' success this season. After disposing of Lake Wales 4-3 in the 5A region final last week, the Hawks head to Port St. Lucie to face St. Thomas Aquinas on Monday night in the state semifinals.
"We're young, but age really doesn't matter," sophomore rightfielder John Paul Roundtree said. "It's all about how you produce."
While senior sluggers Zack Powers and Tyler Alexander — in addition to Spano — get most of the attention, the Hawks' core group of sophomores have filled in the gaps. Tanner Emmons, Jordan Fameree, Mahoney and Roundtree have all contributed in various ways to the Hawks' returning to the state semis for the second consecutive season.
"Last year everyone learned a lot down in Port St. Lucie," Mahoney said. "I think the sophomores have definitely stepped up this year."
In addition to adapting to his new position, Mahoney is hitting .300 and committed just one error in the field. Emmons has been consistent throughout the year and had an RBI single against Lake Wales that proved to be the game winner. Fameree has been outstanding in the field, shuttling mostly between centerfield and second base. He hasn't committed an error all season and scored a pair of runs against the Highlanders.
"They're all very versatile," Wrenn said. "Not everything is about stats with them. They know their roles and play them well."
Although Fameree and Emmons had their fingerprints all over Friday's win against Lake Wales, Roundtree may have stolen the show. With two outs and the tying run on base in the top of the seventh for Lake Wales, the Highlanders Jarred Smith ripped a ball headed toward the right centerfield gap.
"I definitely thought it was a double when it left his bat," Wrenn said.
As Armwood fans held their collective breath, Roundtree raced from rightfield. If the ball landed, the game would have been tied, the go-ahead run would've been on base and all the momentum would swing toward Lake Wales.
"I thought there was no way (Roundtree) was getting to it," Mahoney said. "It was pretty intense."
But Roundtree took a good angle and ran down the drive to end the game, touching off a wild celebration on the infield dirt.
"No, at first I didn't think I would catch it either," Roundtree said. "I was just trying to get close enough to dive for it. It was one of the best feelings of my life."
A feeling that may only be replaced by a state championship.
Brandon Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.