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Class 5A state baseball semifinal: Catcher's growth advances Armwood's hopes

SEFFNER — In a sport driven by statistical minutiae and strategic intricacies, one still can overlook the little things from time to time. They don't call them nuances for nothing.

Hence the reason that, even on the televised replay of Armwood's nine-inning 5-4 region final win against Oviedo Hagerty on May 15, the casual observer might remain oblivious to the Hawks' subtle-yet-standout performance.

To be sure, Kristian Calibuso's bat (3-for-4, two RBIs) was crisp, Joe Cartwright's ninth-inning sac fly was clutch, and sophomore lefty Sean Cramer's 32/3 innings of relief work was courageous.

But Armwood (26-5) likely isn't packing for Port St. Lucie this weekend if not for sophomore catcher Josh Spano.

"He got us that win," Hawks coach Mike Wrenn said. "He really did."

Rewind to the bottom of the eighth inning, when Hagerty had a runner on third with two outs and the scored tied at 4. Watch one of Cramer's pitches bounce in the dirt, only to be saved by Spano. Then watch it happen again.

Watch the runner remain on third because Spano didn't allow any of those pitches to get by him.

"Oh, man … there was a runner on third and there were at least three or four (pitches) that were 50-footers. I mean, no joke, those are the hardest ones to block," said Wrenn, a Zephyrhills grad drafted in 1999 by the Twins as a catcher out of Saint Leo University.

"The 60-foot ones are the ones that are easy because they're short hops, but the 50-foot ones are the hardest ones to block because you never know what kind of hop you're going to get. He attacked them like you're supposed to."

Before this season, Spano had caught only a handful of games, and had never previously caught a doubleheader until working 16 consecutive innings in the two-game sweep.

"My curveball wasn't on," said Cramer, who ultimately struck out Hagerty's No. 8 batter to escape that eighth-inning jam in the nightcap. "He's a great catcher, and I give him a lot of props for a gutsy performance the other day."

Credit Wrenn's instincts and Spano's athleticism for getting Spano behind the plate. With no returning catcher from his 2008 club, Wrenn had a glaring need. Spano, meantime, had a strong right arm and a lot of athleticism.

"I asked him and his dad," Wrenn recalled. "I said, 'Hey, I really think you could go somewhere as a catcher.' He's not too fleet of foot. He's not slow, but he's not fast. He's got a real strong arm and he's an athlete."

Spano and his dad, Tim, obliged. The result has been some productive on-the-job training.Spano (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) has thrown out nine of 21 baserunners this season. A .321 hitter for the year, he's batting .539 in the postseason.

"You can't be lazy," said Spano, who turns 17 on Friday. "You've got to be in it every single play. Coach is always getting on me about that."

After the region final, he probably doesn't need any reminders.

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Class 5A state baseball semifinal: Catcher's growth advances Armwood's hopes 05/23/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 23, 2009 11:31pm]
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