There might not be two more anonymous starting pitchers in tonight's region semifinals than Osceola's Winston Rivas and St. Petersburg Catholic's Tim McKay. Both have been working to the side of the main stage, quietly winning big games in their forgotten districts and elsewhere. They have lurked in the shadow of their team's aces, the Warriors' Taylor Layner and the Barons' Justin Tedder.
But Rivas and McKay can no longer fly under the radar.
Both have forced themselves into the county spotlight by taking the mound in the biggest game of their lives, with the winner advancing to the region finals a week from today.
Before conditioning started in November, Osceola coach Kevin Mullins said he was unsure if Rivas would come out for baseball this season.
"I didn't know if he might be burned out," Mullins said. "But Winston was the first one out there running. He's always been a very hard worker."
Rivas has continued to be a model of consistency. One of the few seniors on a team made up predominantly of underclassmen, Rivas was named a captain and has been the Warriors' quiet leader.
He is 8-2 this season and has more than 65 strikeouts.
"And he hasn't been beating up on cupcakes," Mullins said of Rivas. "He has some wins against quality competition."
Rivas started — and won — last week's Class 5A, District 11 title against Seminole.
Tonight, he faces Punta Gorda Charlotte, a team that already has beaten one county opponent in the playoffs and has a few intimidating hitters.
"I'm not nervous," Rivas said. "I'm focused. I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job right now, and I'm hitting my spots."
Rivas doesn't overpower hitters. Instead, he uses his four pitches to keep batters off balance.
"I need to throw strikes, but I try to keep them guessing," Rivas said. "I like the pressure of having the ball."
A receiver and defensive back on the football team, McKay knows that once the baseball season ends he will be diving for passes or hunting down an unsuspecting running back during spring practice.
But for now, McKay is having a ball in his other sport.
McKay, a sophomore, is 3-3 this season and has pitched in some memorable games. He kept the score close in losses to Sarasota Cardinal Mooney and Jesuit.
Tonight, he gets a chance to avenge that loss against Cardinal Mooney in the region final.
"I'm sure I'll be a little nervous pitching in such a big game," McKay said. "But I think that will go away quickly, and I'll calm down and pitch well."
McKay throws in the mid 80s and throws three pitches.
"Tim is a guy who can throw strikes and has pitched against good teams all season," St. Petersburg Catholic coach John Vigue said. "He's got a football mentality and is real competitive."