BRANDON — Spring 2008 was undoubtedly a memorable season for Brandon's James Ramsay and Roderick Shoulders.
As sophomores, Ramsay and Shoulders were top players on an Eagles team that rode an 18-game win streak to the state semifinals for the first time in 13 years.
Injuries robbed them of their junior years. Now both are back at 100 percent, focused on bringing Brandon back in their senior season.
"If you ask anybody about Brandon, they'll tell you about that '08 season," Shoulders said. "We want everyone to remember us for our 2010 season and not our 2008 season. We're trying to forget about it and let it go."
In 2008, Ramsay, a centerfielder who hit .467, was the Times' Hillsborough County Player of the Year. Shoulders led the county in RBIs with 34. Just three games into the 2009 season both were shelved with serious injuries — Ramsay a torn ACL that required surgery and ended his season, and Shoulders with a torn labrum that kept him out two months.
"Some days you were like, 'Dang, I just wish I could get up there and get a hit right now.' You wanted to help your teammates, but you knew you can't do anything but try to keep them pumped up," Shoulders said.
Now Ramsay and Shoulders are major reasons the Eagles have rebounded. Brandon (12-2, 5-1) heads into today's nondistrict game against Riverview leading Class 6A-8 — arguably the state's most competitive district — by two games. One more district win and the Eagles clinch the No. 1 seed.
Ramsay and Shoulders, team captains, are just two pieces to Brandon's success. Four other seniors — co-captain shortstop Spencer Haynes as well as third baseman Spencer Dewey, second baseman Derek Dungan and pitcher Austin Browder — started two years ago, a fact coach Matt Stallbaumer said has made their return easier.
"Some kids might have come out and tried to do too much, but I think having a lot of seniors on this team allows them to just continue to play," Stallbaumer said. "There's been a comfort level they've had ever since they've been here, and that's having a good supporting cast. We've come out and pitched and played defense."
Ramsay, floating within the top three spots in the batting order, is hitting .386 and has reached safely in all 14 games (a .518 on-base percentage). Shoulders is hitting .395 with three homers and 17 RBIs, all team highs.
"Both those two, had they not been injured, would have set every seasonal mark we've had since Brandon started," Stallbaumer said. "I think with those two guys being out and us not quite achieving what we thought we were going to achieve last year, it just makes them hungry.
"But ever since I met those kids as freshmen, every day it's about playing the game at a high level."
Other than being their last high school season — Ramsay has signed with USF and Shoulders with State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota — this year is different.
In centerfield, Ramsay has new outfielders around him. Shoulders, who shared catching duties with Mike Smith the past two seasons, is primarily behind the plate.
But to Ramsay and Shoulders, the most important thing is being back on the field.
"There was a lot of frustration and disappointment that we couldn't help our teammates," Ramsay said. "You look back at all the times you sat down, and it makes you feel grateful you have the opportunity to play high school baseball. That's the best part about playing this year."