After crashing and burning in last year's region championship game, Pasco coach Ricky Giles started looking ahead.
He saw a veteran pitching staff returning, promising bats throughout his lineup, and a few players expected to return from injuries.
Returning to the region championship wasn't a possibility.
It was a probability.
But there were a few things nagging at Giles, namely one giant hole staring out at him from smack dab in the middle of his lineup.
He needed someone to handle his pitching staff. He needed someone to stop opposing baserunners. He needed a whole bunch of hits and RBIs.
And he needed all that from one position: catcher.
So this is how Jorge Jaramillo's season started.
With pressure. Expectations. A coach riding him harder than anyone else.
"It was probably the most difficult thing I'll ever have to do in my high school career,'' said Jaramillo.
He wasn't about to make anyone forget Zach Maggard, last year's All-County and All-State catcher, cleanup hitter and vanquisher of would-be base-stealers, so soon.
What he had to do, though, was make sure they didn't miss him.
"Zach was a great leader, a friend and everything else,'' Jaramillo said. "The hard thing was, he was a guy who impacted the team so much.''
Jaramillo stepped into a tough spot, then stepped up.
Heading into Friday's best-of-three region championship series against Palatka, the junior is second on the team in hitting at .424.
He is second in RBIs (with two more than Maggard had last season), hits, on-base percentage.
And in 110 trips to the plate, he has struck out just five times.
"I'm swinging the bat pretty good right now,'' he said.
This is, by the way, what Jaramillo expected. He was unfazed by filling a big void. He was eager.
Giles wasn't convinced that would be enough, so early on in practice he made sure Jaramillo knew what he expected.
Every … single … day.
Time … after … time.
"He wanted me to be just as good as Zach was,'' Jaramillo said. "I knew what he was doing. Just giving me some motivation.''
Though his average has been slightly dipping in recent weeks, Jaramillo — batting leadoff for the Pirates — has been delivering at the most opportune time for Pasco.
He drove in two runs in a district semifinal win. In the region quarterfinal against St. Cloud, two more RBIs.
And in his most impressive performance of the year, Jaramillo carried the Pirates to a region semifinal win with four hits and six RBIs.
Jaramillo's emergence as one of the best hitting catchers in Pasco County was the biggest piece of the puzzle Giles was hoping to put together this year.
Transfer Dylan Giella filled a hole at third base, and is now hitting .396. Josh Johnson has grown into a bona fide power hitter out of the No. 9 hole. Henry Johnson became a reliable No. 3 starter with No. 1 talent, and senior Thomas Harris returned from an arm injury to flawlessly handle second base.
The things nagging at Giles now make him smile.
"We expected to be here,'' Jaramillo said. "We knew we were losing some good players, but we thought we could be better than last year. Nothing is proven yet, though. Not until Friday.''
John C. Cotey can be reached at (813) 909-4612 or email@example.com.