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Cotey: Mustangs sneak up on county foes

TRINITY — It was sunny, with a slight breeze. Quiet. Peaceful almost.

On the field, Mitchell played a meaningless baseball game against a team from far away. A few fans dug into coolers for drinks, others lounged near the concession stand.

The game against Gonzalez Tate counted, technically, but the lazy day made it seem like not much more than an exhibition.

If the Mustangs have their way, Tuesday evening was merely the calm before they storm to the Sunshine Athletic Conference title.

"Now it gets fun,'' first-year coach Scott Wilcox said.

And fun for the Mustangs has not been so fun for opponents. Since returning to a steady diet of Pasco County teams after spending a quiet, almost silent first month getting beat up in district play, the Mustangs have surged to the SAC lead.

Before Tuesday, they had won six straight, four by shutout. And they did that against the best and hottest teams the area has to offer.

Last week, the Mustangs shut out Pasco, winners of 13 of 14 games. Two days later, they snapped Land O'Lakes' 14-game win streak with another shutout. Two days later, they blanked a Nature Coast team that was 15-3.

"Those were the three teams that were getting all the attention,'' Wilcox said, "and we shut them all out.''

One more note: in the 58 combined games the three teams had played, they had never been shut out.

For a team that was expected to have one of the county's best staffs with Patrick Schuster, Ryan Garton and Matt Hewitt, that may not be much of a surprise. For a team that has struggled mightily at the plate the past two seasons, it was awfully refreshing.

After mustering only 19 runs through a hugely disappointing 4-9 start, Mitchell put up 56 runs during its recent six-game win streak.

"Everyone underestimated us,'' said pitcher Garton. "But they don't understand the district we played in. It's crazy.''

Because they play in a district with two Pinellas County teams and three from Hillsborough, it is easy to disappear.

And because those teams are the likes of St. Petersburg, Gaither, Sickles and Alonso — all with pitching galore — it is easy to lose.

"We've been …weathered,'' Wilcox said.

Now they are ready.

The Mustangs are ready for an SAC schedule they should get through unscathed, with one tough game remaining in the bunch, against Zephyrhills on Monday.

At 11-10, they are the most unlikely of conference contenders.

"The kids are getting fired up for this,'' Wilcox said. "We're sort of out of touch with Pasco County and have been kind of under the rug for the first half of the season. They have a lot they want to prove.''

Ace junior lefty Schuster, who is being courted by the likes of Florida and Clemson, says the Mustangs endured their fair share of razzing for their slow start from former Little League teammates who are now scattered at other schools in the county.

Instead, he says, they should feel fortunate Mitchell, still a young team, is tucked away in Class 6A.

"I heard a rumor we might be going down to 5A next year,'' he said. "If we do, it's over.''

Which is what they hope to prove down the stretch.

The Mustangs still haven't shown an ability to consistently hit good pitching. They have scored two or fewer runs in half their games. They can be sloppy in the field.

So while a brutal district prepared them for a run at the conference title, that run at the title now has to prepare them for the district tournament.

"We've been playing well but we still have to prove we can maintain it,'' Wilcox said. "We just want to finish strong. Pitching is our strength, but we need to go into the tournament with confident bats.''

Now it gets fun.

John C. Cotey can be reached at johncotey@gmail.com or

(813) 909-4612.

Cotey: Mustangs sneak up on county foes 04/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 10:31am]
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