TAMPA — A decade ago, Sickles had no trouble stringing together winning baseball seasons. That was until a new high school opened less than 8 miles away.
Steinbrenner, which draws some of the talent from the Gryphons' area, has never had a losing season since opening in 2009. Sickles, on the other hand, has had more than its fair share of those.
"It decimated us," said Bob Pagano, who has coached the Gryphons since the school opened in 1997.
But in 2014, things began to turn around for Sickles, which finished above .500 for the first time since its district rival opened. Troy Bacon may have been the catalyst.
Bacon, a Florida commit, had a much improved 2014 season, Pagano said, leading the Gryphons both on the mound and at the plate. With just one more high school season to go, Bacon will be one of eight Tampa Bay area players participating in this week's Perfect Game National Showcase.
Pagano insists Bacon has a lot to show off.
The shortstop and right-handed pitcher has played varsity baseball for Sickles since he was a freshman, but it was his junior season — one in which he had a .381 batting average and 1.01 ERA in 62.1 innings pitched — that Pagano said he saw the most growth.
"You can't let anything get to you as a pitcher. When he was younger, (things) would get to him, and then it would affect his field of play and his batting," Pagano said. "It didn't this time."
Here are the other Tampa Bay area players participating in the 2014 Perfect Game National Showcase:
Kyle Tucker, OF, Plant: The Florida commit, who will compete in this summer's Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field, led the state with nine home runs and had a team-high .415 batting average for the Panthers this past season.
Christopher Chatfield, OF/LHP, Spoto: Chatfield had two of Spoto's three home runs in 2014 and finished with a .371 batting average. The 6-foot-3 junior also had a 1.94 ERA in a team-high 21.2 innings pitched.
Logan Crouse, RHP, Bloomingdale: Crouse, a Florida State commit, led the Bulls to a Class 8A state championship game appearance in May and finished the season with a 0.63 ERA and 9-2 record, striking out 116 in 88.2 innings pitched.
Jason Heinrich, RHP/1B, River Ridge: Heinrich had a team-high .534 batting average and led the Royal Knights with 33 RBIs, 13 doubles, two triples and seven home runs. He also had a 9-1 record on the mound with a 1.90 ERA in 59 innings pitched.
Ronnie Ramirez, 3B/RHP, Jesuit: The FSU commit stepped up when the Tigers' pitching staff took a hit with suspensions this spring, and he ended the season with a 2.36 ERA in 29.2 innings pitched, adding 11 RBIs at the plate.
Kennie Taylor, OF, Jesuit: Taylor led Jesuit with 24 RBIs, 10 more than next best Tiger. He helped lead the Tigers to a Class 5A state championship with a .348 batting average and a team-leading 14 extra-base hits.
Pablo Toranzo, RHP, Tampa Catholic: The 6-foot-4 junior finished the 2014 season with a 2-0 record and 2.10 ERA in 10 innings pitched.