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Brandon High baseball teams heads to 7A semifinals May 19 in Port St. Lucie

BRANDON

Catcher's gear is often referred to as the "tools of ignorance," but it's certainly hard to qualify that statement when it's strapped to a kid with a nearly 6.0 grade point average.

Maybe Adam Sass just hasn't had enough time to settle in yet.

Sass, who has been catching for less than two years, leads Brandon into the state semifinals at Port St. Lucie's Digital Domain Park against New Smyrna Beach at 10 a.m. Saturday. The winner plays for the 7A state title at 4:05 p.m. Sunday.

"He'd played a few different spots for us and when the need came up, we thought, with his athleticism, that he could handle catching," Brandon coach Matt Stallbaumer said.

That need arose when catcher Tyler Raymond tore his ACL prior to the 2011 season. Stallbaumer broached the idea of taking over the catching duties to Sass, who had been patiently waiting his turn to play shortstop and figured to be the starter heading into the season.

"Coach told me that (catching) was the quickest way to get to college (ball) and even though I was waiting to play short(stop), I was the team captain and wanted to show leadership," Sass said. "I talked to my dad and decided to give it a shot."

Sass estimated he'd caught "about 21 innings" since he started playing Little League baseball prior to the 2011 season.

"Never done any drills or anything like that," Sass said. "I just wanted to help the team."

Although Stallbaumer had supreme confidence in Sass' athletic ability, making the switch to catching is much tougher than just sliding from left to right field.

"I remember when he first put the gear on and he kept complaining about the mask not feeling comfortable," Stallbaumer said. "I told him he had about two and half weeks to figure it out. Sleep in it if you have to."

But Sass made a quick transition, rapidly taking to blocking balls in the dirt, throwing out runners and running a pitching staff.

"It came pretty natural," he said.

What wasn't immediately natural for Sass was being the vocal leader on the field.

"I had always been a leader by example," he said. "That took some time but now it's something I'm completely comfortable with."

With a full year under his belt, Sass has been outstanding this year. The senior has made just two errors and Stallbaumer said he has given up just one stolen base. To boot, Sass is tied for the team lead with a .342 batting average and paces Brandon with seven doubles.

"For someone who never played the position before to jump right in there and do what he's done has been remarkable," Stallbaumer said.

Stallbaumer said this year's version of the Eagles reminds him of the 2008 team that lost in the state semifinals.

"That '08 team was all about baseball and so is this team," he said. "There are no individuals that pop out at you but they all just play for each other."

None of the seven seniors on Brandon's team have college offers yet, which makes each game that much more tenuous for this group.

"I know just one passed ball could mean the difference between these seniors maybe never playing again," said Sass, whose grades helped him earn admission to the University of Florida, where he may play as a walk-on.

"I don't want that to happen. I don't want to let these guys down."

Stallbaumer said this team has more heart than any he has coached.

"I've coached teams before that when the season was over because they knew they were going off to play in college or were going to get drafted, they just picked up their stuff and said goodbye like it was nothing," Stallbaumer said. "This team isn't ready to say goodbye."

Brandon Wright can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

>> if you go

FHSAA Class 7A State Baseball Semifinals

When: Saturday; (final is Sunday)

Where: Digital Domain Park, 525 NW Peacock Blvd., Port St. Lucie

Who: Brandon vs. New Smyrna Beach, 10 a.m.; Venice vs. Delray Beach Atlantic, 1 p.m.

At stake: Winners play for the state title at 4:05 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $9 per session

Parking: $7

Brandon High baseball teams heads to 7A semifinals May 19 in Port St. Lucie 05/17/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 4:30am]
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