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Baseball: Not so no-no Mustangs find new method to winning

Mitchell’s Garrett Kriston beat Wesley Chapel.

JOHN C. COTEY | Times

Mitchell’s Garrett Kriston beat Wesley Chapel.

Tim McCormick threw a no-hitter last week.

ESPN never called.

"Yeah, we joked about that after it happened," Mitchell senior centerfielder Kevin Games said.

One season after Patrick Schuster captured the attention of the country — and enough television crews to double Trinity's population on days he pitched — by throwing four straight no-hitters, the Mustangs are moving on, quietly.

McCormick threw his no-hitter. Garrett Kriston, who started the season on the junior varsity, beat Wesley Chapel, which was 10-1, in a key league game. The Mustangs sit atop their new district, are 9-3 overall and fancy themselves a playoff team.

Even if no one is paying as much attention.

"Oh yeah, obviously, we were completely overlooked," Games said, but not in a way that suggests the Mustangs have a chip on their shoulder or anything.

In fact, it's more like: duh.

"We knew we had a lot of work to do," he said.

And they still do. After running off six straight wins and beating their first quality opponent by knocking off Wesley Chapel 3-2, they gave up 18 runs in consecutive losses to Brooks-Debartolo and Land O'Lakes, something last year's pitching staff would have never done.

Which is the point — last year is now officially put away, boxed up and stacked in the garage.

"I think we started out this season with a false confidence," coach Scott Wilcox said. "We were sort of trying to find an identity. Trying to figure out exactly what kind of team this was going to be."

As Schuster started stacking up no-hitters last season, the spotlight on the Mustangs was intense.

None by none, the no-hitters brought in bigger crowds and starry-eyed distractions.

By the time the team rolled into the district semifinals at Countryside, ESPN and Bright House had announcing teams setting up hours beforehand, and many national sports publications had sent a writer or photographer to see if he could make it five straight. He couldn't, and the Mustangs quickly bowed out of the postseason.

It was a tremendous time. One that no one on that team will forget or likely experience again.

It wasn't just Schuster and the emotional high the Mustangs had to move on from, it was the loss of pitchers Michael Grande and Matt Hewitt, catcher Doug Burlett, cleanup hitter Matt Hart.

It was the perfect year for a drop from Class 6A to 4A. "It was just a complete change of gears for everybody involved," Wilcox said. "We have to scrap and claw. We're not shutting other teams down like we were last year. Last year was very easy for me. With that starting pitching I just had to roll 'em out there and expect them to go the distance. This year I've sort of had to strategize a little more, find a combination that works."

So far, that combination has been McCormick and Kriston.

Against Wesley Chapel, Kriston wasn't overpowering, but he was smart. He worked out of a bases-loaded jam. He didn't allow the bottom of the lineup to hurt him. He threw strikes.

It pleases Wilcox to see his staff, under the guidance of pitching coach Joe Koehler, show glimpses. After six games, the Mustangs had given up 10 or more runs three times. In the next four games, they allowed six runs combined. And the last two, well … so it goes with inexperienced arms.

Offensively, Wilcox says his team can score. They led Land O'Lakes 5-2 before losing 10-7. Wilcox says last year, five runs were enough to win; this year they'll need more.

He likes Games and his quick bat and power, so much that he has been dropped to No. 3 from leadoff to drive in some runs. He likes being able to run (Mitchell has more than 70 steals). He likes the aggressive nature of his team. Tuesday, the Mustangs stole bases in four straight innings.

"I think the guys are starting to take ownership in this team," Wilcox said.

With district games against Pasco yet to be played, nothing has been decided. Except maybe this: This is still a team that expects to go further than last year.

It will just be doing it more quietly.

John C. Cotey can be reached at cotey@sptimes.com.

Baseball: Not so no-no Mustangs find new method to winning 03/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 27, 2010 8:15pm]
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