TAMPA — Tampa Catholic's 10-5 record heading into Tuesday is deceiving: All five of the Crusaders' losses have come to state-ranked teams, including three to a pair of teams — Clearwater Central Catholic and Bishop Moore — ranked No. 1 in their classifications.
So Tuesday's nondistrict game against Land O'Lakes (14-2), a team that was riding a 14-game winning streak and had climbed to ninth in the most recent Class 5A state poll, served as a legitimate measuring stick.
Tampa Catholic was also without coach Rich Arena, serving a seven-day suspension, and second-leading hitter John Diaz, who injured his ankle over the weekend.
Despite that, the Crusaders received a balanced effort and defeated Land O'Lakes 6-4 Tuesday afternoon for their third straight win. In those three games, Tampa Catholic outscored opponents 34-13.
"We don't have a superstar player," said Tampa Catholic acting head coach Raul Cuervo. "I think we're peaking at the right time. We've played top-level competition so we know we can play anyone at that level."
That renewed confidence will be important for Tampa Catholic (11-5) as its rematch with Jesuit looms Thursday followed by a tough draw at the Saladino Tournament.
"I guess we just started to play as a team," said Tampa Catholic second baseman Brandon Mendoza, who was 2-for-3. "We know what we can do."
The Crusaders tallied 11 hits, including 10 off Gators starter Matt Fuglesang, who allowed six runs in five innings. In the season opener, a 2-1 Tampa Catholic win, Fuglesang struck out 12 in six innings.