When Dick Rohrberg took over at Sunlake six years ago, he preached the importance of playing team baseball. It was better to move runners over with bunts or hits to the opposite field than trying to hit home runs, Rohrberg taught.
It took a while for the message to get across. After a 13-12 season in his first year, the Seahawks had four straight losing seasons. And this season started out with an 11-1 loss to River Ridge.
Slowly but surely, Sunlake started to believe. Despite finishing behind River Ridge and Fivay in the Class 5A-8 regular-season standings, the Seahawks got past Anclote, then Tarpon Springs in the district semifinals. A loss to Land O'Lakes in the district final meant playing a region quarterfinal on the road.
The Seahawks (19-9) didn't flinch. They defeated Hernando 2-1, then Pasco 3-0 and are in a region final for the first time.
"They are finally buying into what we're doing,'' Rohrberg said. "If you do the fundamental stuff; bunt, move runners over, stuff like that, you make things happen. They are seeing that. The parents are seeing that. It took some time, but they are seeing that it's not just about taking the biggest swing you can take. It's about playing team baseball.''
Next up is a game at North Marion (16-11) on Tuesday. Win that and Sunlake will small ball its way into a first state tournament appearance.
"Don't know anything about them,'' Rohrberg said. "They are north of Ocala. That's all I know.''
Because of the schedule, Rohrberg will get to pitch his ace, David Castillo, for a third straight game. Castillo (7-3) has a 1.54 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 68.1 innings pitched.
Ryan Talburt (4-1, 2.27), Alex Anderson (2-2, 2.96) and Zac Scranton (4-1, 1.57) have also pitched well this season.
"The trouble with the schedule is that the other pitchers haven't had a chance to throw many innings,'' said Rohrberg, who added the team had an intrasquad game Thursday "just to get our other pitchers some innings.''
Sunlake has gotten just enough offense to get through the postseason so far. Omar Cala leads the way with a .398 average and 19 RBIs. Castillo (.359), Colton King (.352), Zac Howard (.325) and John Eales (.312) are all hitting over .300.
Most of Sunlake's players have been together three years. There are eight seniors and seven juniors who have contributed all season. They have bought into the small-ball philosophy, and the result has been the best season in school history.
"It's not like football,'' Rohrberg said. "In football some teams run an I-formation, some run a spread. In baseball, it's played the same way. It's no secret. The team that executes best wins. We have been executing better and better as the season goes on.''
Rodney Page can be reached at [email protected]