SEFFNER — There might not be an Armwood baseball player who wants to get back to the state tournament more than junior Josh Spano.
For the Hawks' starting catcher and No. 2 starting pitcher, icing his knees one night and his shoulder the other has been well worth it.
Armwood's first trip to the state tournament last season came with its share of lessons. And Spano, who found himself in the center of controversy, has emerged from it all a better player and smarter person.
In last year's Class 5A state semifinal against Tallahassee, Spano was bowled over during a play at the plate in the fifth inning. A half-inning later, Spano rounded third and lowered his shoulder into the Chiles catcher.
The collision cleared both benches, and Spano was ejected for "malicious contact." Armwood lost 4-2. Since then, Spano has been thinking about getting back to Port St. Lucie.
"That kind of experience is definitely going to force you to think about stuff, whether you want to or not," Armwood coach Mike Wrenn said. "I think it made him wiser when it comes to being aggressive and maybe thinking a little bit before you're so aggressive.
"Maybe he can do something to get that stigma off of him and be remembered for something better than what happened at states."
If the Hawks (18-9) beat Lake Wales (26-4) — ranked 10th in the nation by maxpreps.com — in Friday's Class 5A region final, they will get back to state and could face Chiles in the final.
"I'd love to see Chiles again," Spano said. "I think we should have beaten them, so I'd like to get back at them. I've learned from it. I'm still going to play hard, but I'm going to be smarter about it."
This year, Spano (6-2, 185 pounds) is a reason Armwood is close to getting back. He is 2 inches taller and 25 pounds heavier. He quit football and basketball to concentrate on baseball full time, dedicating himself to fall ball and offseason weightlifting.
It has paid off. Spano leads the Hawks with a .462 batting average, 36 hits and six home runs. As a pitcher, he's 5-3 with a 1.90 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 472/3 innings, including two complete games and one shutout.
"I knew he was going to be a good pitcher, but I didn't think he'd be this good for us right away," Wrenn said. "But he just jumped in right away and kept going with it. Last year we didn't need him to throw a lot."
One more win, and the Hawks will have a shot at redemption.
"I think we have more talent than we did last year," Spano said. "We have more experience. We've been there before. Hopefully, we can get there again."