BROOKSVILLE — Brett Maggard wasn't sure how he would be received by his new teammates on the Hernando baseball team.
Maggard, a left-handed pitcher who spent his first three years at rival Springstead, transferred to Hernando for his senior season. The Leopards returned a large portion of the team that a year earlier won a district championship and advanced to the Class 4A region finals for the first time since 2004.
Maggard had plenty to offer Hernando. At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, he is a hard-throwing southpaw who averaged at least one strikeout an inning during his junior year at Springstead.
But still, there was uncertainty in Maggard's head surrounding his arrival. Would he be viewed as a hired gun, with no real connection to the team or the players, or would he be accepted into the Hernando family?
"The other players made me feel real comfortable right off the start," said Maggard, who bears the scar from the ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow that robbed him of his sophomore season and shortened his junior year. "It was great. That's how you win ball games, team chemistry."
So far, it has won Hernando 26 games to be precise.
The Leopards will be looking for two more this week at the Class 4A state finals to complete the goal they set at the beginning of the year: winning a state title. The Leopards open Monday in the semifinals against Jesuit, the 4A runnerup a year ago.
"If you can create competition among your players for at-bats and starts, you'll have a solid, competitive team," Hernando coach Tim Sims said.
Maggard, who is 8-1 with a 2.42 ERA and 81 strikeouts this season, was one of four major additions to the Leopards' roster during the offseason.
J.T. Simpson, a right-hander who came in from Central after his grandfather, Mike Ellison, retired as the Bears head baseball coach following the 2010 season, helped solidify the Leopards rotation, going 7-2 with a team-leading 1.21 ERA and 94 strikeouts.
"Last year, they had two solid pitchers," Simpson said. "So coming in, I was hoping I could fill that role and continue to do what they had from last year and just pick it up where it left off. And when I found out Brett was coming over it really boosted our confidence."
Christian Arroyo made the move with Maggard from Springstead and now starts at shortstop. Arroyo, a sophomore, is batting .476 with three home runs and has been hitting fifth in the batting order during the playoff run.
Jake Johnson, a sophomore infielder who played for Nature Coast last season, had been in the five-hole for Hernando and was batting .500 before he dislocated his left wrist in a regular-season game against Wiregrass Ranch.
Johnson likely won't be healthy enough to play again this season. The other three transfers, however, could have a considerable impact on Monday's outcome.
"We all came here really with one main goal from the start, be state champions," Maggard said. "It's been since 1967 since a team from Hernando County has been to the state final four, so we're going at it."
They're not an all-star team from Hernando County.
But they're pretty close.
"That's what everybody's been saying," senior outfielder Ian Townsend said. "We've got to show it at states."