TAMPA — After hitting a winning three-run home run Tuesday off Osceola ace and Florida State signee Taylor Layner, Jesuit catcher Nolan Schultz couldn't help but text good friend Kris Johnson to brag a little.
Johnson, who hit a winning home run last season in the same round of the playoffs against the same pitcher, simply replied:
"But whose was further?"
Johnson knew the answer. While Schultz's homer was a liner into the parking lot, his nearly redirected, or scattered, traffic on 102nd Avenue.
The initial awe over Johnson's prodigious poke eventually wore off, but the impact of the blast propelled the Tigers all the way to the state semifinals.
Schultz hopes his blast has the same effect as the Tigers (24-6) take on Bradenton Lakewood Ranch tonight in the Class 4A region semifinals.
Wednesday at practice, the Tigers bounded about with newfound confidence.
"Last year, Kris' homer really got us into our stride," Schultz, a junior, said. "After he hit it, we were all like, 'All right, we got this.' I think this year, the same thing is going to happen."
At this time last year, Schultz was riding the bench, the victim of a hitting slump that cost him his starting job. He hit .250 with one extra-base hit and after April 8 did not get a single at-bat.
He said he had focused so much on his defense — the catching, blocking and framing pitches of one of the best staffs in the state — he lost his way in the batter's box despite the best summer and fall of hitting in his life.
Bobby Eveld stepped in and promptly hit a homer April 9.
"I think I let it get into my head," Schultz said. "I knew exactly what I had done. But I wasn't getting it done. I wasn't focused on hitting."
Schultz is smart enough to realize his mistake.
Real smart, in fact — he just might be the most well-read baseball player in Tampa.
He recently read The Republic by Plato for the heck of it because F. Scott Fitzgerald — the author of his favorite book, The Great Gatsby — referenced it in some of his work.
Since Easter, he has bought 30 books on his Nook and read 20.
Pride and Prejudice came pre-installed on the Nook. He has no real interest in it but will read it anyway because it is a classic. And he says he will read Tolstoy's massive War and Peace as well.
Like most in his generation, he started reading voraciously with Harry Potter. In fact, he looks like a grown-up, homer-hitting version of Potter, minus the glasses, and takes off his hat to reveal a thick mop of black hair.
When he was 10 or so, a little girl came up to him in the grocery store and, thinking he was the fictional child wizard, asked for his autograph.
He signed a piece of paper: Harry Potter.
This season, he has been something of a wizard at the plate.
He is third on the team in batting average (.436), doubles (eight) and home runs (six). He is second in RBIs with 37 and first with three triples.
Try taking his job now.
"I think I've brought up my hitting to my level of catching," he said, as if he has cast the spell of Reparo on his bat.
In 30 games, he has one error, on a catcher's interference.
"He's been a huge boost for us," said ace Lance McCullers. "He can't be replaced right now."