Monday, December 11, 2017
Sports

Tampa Prep gears up for state title bid

TAMPA

Veteran Tampa Prep coaches Joe Fenlon and A.J. Hendrix, with 41 years of experience at the school between them, talked about the glaring omission from their resumes earlier this school year.

Neither, at the time, had won a state title.

"We gave each other the business a little and kid around about it," Hendrix said. "All in good fun."

Fenlon, after seven trips to the Final Four, won that elusive state championship on his eighth try this year with the boys basketball team. Hendrix will get his first crack at the baseball equivalent later this week.

In his 12th year at Tampa Prep, Hendrix will lead the Terrapins to their first Final Four appearance when the they take on Jacksonville Providence at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the state semifinals at Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie.

"This team has been about pitching and defense all season," Hendrix said. "If we're going to win it all, we're going to have to excel at both."

Although the Terrapins have never made it this far, Hendrix does have some experience in the state semifinals. As an assistant coach at his high school alma mater in Richmond, Ind., Hendrix reached the state final four three times.

"It's been the hurdle," Hendrix quipped.

Senior third baseman Tyler Jarrell, who leads the club with a .424 average, said the Terrapins are well aware that history isn't on their side.

"It's never been done before here and we want to be the first," he said. "You can definitely tell in practice that the guys are getting more excited."

And after filling out lineup cards for the past 20 years, Hendrix has amassed a number of connections. He dug into his Rolodex last week and called on a favor from Robert Molloy, a former player who is the grandson of former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and works in the organization.

"I asked him if we could get the guys over onto Steinbrenner Field . . . so the team could get a feel for what it would be like to play in that big a venue," Hendrix said. "They agreed and I think it will help prepare these guys a little more for what they're about to experience."

Digital Domain Park, the spring training home of the New York Mets as well as their Class A affiliate, is close in size to Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees' spring training home. More important, both are a far cry from Tampa Prep's cozy home field, one of smallest in the county with a short rightfield porch measuring just 250 feet from home plate.

"It's been a big help to get out on (Steinbrenner Field)," Jarrell said. "Plus we have an all-grass infield (at Tampa Prep's field), and these are clay infields, so that makes a difference."

Hendrix said he and Fenlon had another talk last week. The two spoke about winning it all and Fenlon left Hendrix with some words of encouragement.

"He told me 'Now all you guys have to do is go out and win states,' " Hendrix said. "Then we can celebrate two of them."

Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]

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