DUNEDIN — As the sun set behind Field 3 at Englebert Complex on Monday evening, River Ridge High coach Jack Homko huddled with his team after an opening-round loss to Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High in the Dunedin Spring Classic. The Royal Knights had a four-run lead but lost 6-5 on a walk-off single. Homko calmly — then sometimes not so calmly — explained to his team that they must play better as the final weeks of the season wind down.
"Sometimes we don't focus well enough and we let stuff like this happen," Homko said. "We just make too many mistakes sometimes, which is not like us."
Losing has not been the norm this season for River Ridge. The Royal Knights, 11-4 after Monday's game, are 9-2 in Class 5A, District 8, one game behind Dunedin. Those teams play next week in a game that will likely determine the regular-season district champion.
If there is a silver lining for River Ridge after Monday's loss, it's that the Royal Knights have a respectable record despite not yet playing their best baseball.
"We've had a few injuries here and there, and we've had to change up the lineup a little bit," Homko said. "But our players have stepped up. We've been pretty solid for most of the season. We do tend to leave too many runners on base. There have been several games where we could have won comfortably if we just came up with a few more key hits. Hopefully, that will get better as we get near the end of the season."
Homko also had to find some extra pitchers this season. Jason Heinrich, who was the Tampa Bay Times’ North Suncoast Player of the Year last season after hitting .534 and going 9-1 as a pitcher, decided he did not want to pitch much this season. He has only thrown three innings, all in relief.
While Heinrich — who has committed to the University of Central Florida — is still a prolific hitter (over .500 average) and rightfielder, not having him as a starter changed Homko's plans. He moved senior Rocco Iervasi from a reliever to a starter this season. Iervasi has come through with a 3-0 record and a 0.78 ERA, though he did give up four runs against Brooks DeBartolo.
Senior Tyler Hawks has also done well as a starter. He is 3-1 with a 1.42 ERA. Trevor Hawks and Andrew O'Brien round out a relatively thin but effective pitching staff.
"We're very deep. We have a good pitching staff and a roster full of very talented players," said Heinrich, who is a potential top 20-round MLB draft pick. "I think we can go far. I really think we have the potential to do well at districts and regionals and maybe even states."
The Knights have one of the better lineups in Pasco County. Their team batting average is .319. Iervasi, Heinrich, Tyler Hawks, Sean Murtha and Ryan Glenn are all hitting over .300.
While the Dunedin tournament didn't start the way they wanted, the Royal Knights still have plenty of key games coming up. Aside from Dunedin, there are also district games against Fivay, Pasco, Wesley Chapel and Tarpon Springs.
Those are the games River Ridge is focused on.
Contact Rodney Page at [email protected] Follow @RodneyHomeTeam.