Friday, April 20, 2018
Sports

Valdes helps Durant maintain even keel for state semifinal

PLANT CITY — There was a telling moment in one of Durant's final practices of the season, one that eased coach Butch Valdes' mind.

And it involved a Cougar player getting pretty much beat up by the entire team.

Tyler Long hit a home run in batting practice Tuesday. Just so happens it was the first ball he's ever put over the fence, at any time, on his home field.

Tradition ensued. Long went crazy and then braced himself. Players who had been milling around the outfield quickly realized what had happened and a mad dash was on, straight for Long.

He was dog-piled.

"There you go," Valdes said. "Just like any other practice. You just saw a bunch of guys having fun, not even care if they were going to get hurt. That's a good thing."

And that's the idea Valdes has carried into Durant's first-ever trip to the state baseball tournament. As much as possible, he wants the Cougars to treat today's Class 8A state semifinal against Hialeah American at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers no differently than any other game situation.

Valdes has been pretty good about having his ideas work. But being that he's only in his fourth year as a head coach, Valdes hasn't been shy about getting advice.

He talked to Alonso's Landy Faedo, author of two recent state titles. And to Brandon's Matt Stallbaumer whose team made the 7A final last year. Always reliable for advice, legendary Jefferson head coach Pop Cuesta sent some encouragement to his former player.

"He said, 'Remember to have fun,'" Valdes said. "'Let the kids enjoy it. And keep them together.'"

Taking that to heart, Valdes had the Cougars staying in a hotel apart from family in Fort Myers.

Doubtless he will do whatever it takes to get the title, if for nothing else to get his brother off his back. Mike Valdes won a national championship as a pitcher for the University of Tampa.

"He shows me that ring every chance he gets. So it would be nice to get one, but more importantly these kids deserve it," Butch said.

Tyler Danish is one of those "kids" — though he's played like a man all year, leading the Cougars with a .415 average and eight homers while not allowing up an earned run all year as one of the state's top pitchers.

He can vouch that Valdes hasn't changed just because of this whole state tournament business. Specific to Danish, and smartly, Valdes hopes to repeat the successful regional "7-4-3" equation. A pitcher is limited to 10 innings at state, so the hope is Danish goes seven Friday morning against Hialeah American, Chaz Fowler tosses the first four in Saturday's final, with Danish closing the final three.

Aside from strategy Valdes certainly isn't going to alter his demeanor. The coach isn't afraid to jump on a player if necessary.

"There are some times he'll get after you," Danish said. "But we don't take it to heart. The motto around here is you have to have thick skin. He'll let you know what you need to hear."

That extended to encouragement during Durant's region final win against Timber Creek, the first time the Cougars faced a deficit this postseason.

Danish said Valdes told them every state championship team falls behind at some point, and the important part is jumping right back on the scoreboard. And that's exactly what Durant did.

"That's the guy he's always been," said Gary Graham, longtime friend and fellow Bloomingdale assistant with Valdes in the late 90's. "He knows where to put his hand, that's whether it be a pat on the shoulder, or ... a smack in the (posterior)."

Part of Valdes' coaching approach comes from his long experience as a physical education teacher. In 2011, the National Association for Sports and Physical Education named Valdes the Southern District high school physical education teacher of the year.

Before coming to Durant, Valdes helped the Turkey Creek Middle School PE program earn national recognition.

Before he takes a chance as earning greater recognition at the state tournament today, Valdes recognized the singing talents of daughter Jacqueline. The Durant junior , a gave her first chorus solo on Thursday night.

"Yeah, Thursday night. We play at 10 a.m. (today)," he said. "Asked her when exactly will she be singing and it was 'Dad, it'll be sometime between 7 and 9. It'll happen when it happens."

Whatever time it is Valdes wasn't going to miss it. And come Saturday at roughly the same time, the Cougars hope to be singing a championship tune.

Darek Sharp can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

TAMPA — How good can the Bucs be in 2018? Fans will get a good sense in the first three weeks, as Tampa Bay opens the year with three of its toughest games, all against reigning division champions. The Bucs open 2018 in New Orleans on Sept. 9 ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Life got you down? The Miracle League is back and making miracles again

Life got you down? The Miracle League is back and making miracles again

ST. PETERSBURG — An old friend is back in the lineup.The Kiwanis of Gulf Beaches Miracle League, which champions baseball for the physically and mentally challenged, returned with a flourish Saturday morning. We're better for it."This...
Updated: 3 hours ago
The Mallex Smith effect can take effect for Rays

The Mallex Smith effect can take effect for Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — Mallex Smith has style.Effervescent personality. Pop culture hipness. Sense of fashion with accoutrements.Now the Rays are going to find out if he has game.More specifically, enough game to be a front-line outfielder, even an i...
Updated: 3 hours ago
NHL makes right call in not suspending Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov

NHL makes right call in not suspending Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov

The NHL got it right.Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning's top scorer and best player so far in these playoffs, will play Saturday's Game 5 against New Jersey. He's not going to be suspended for his vicious hit on a Devils player in Tampa Bay's Game 4 vic...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Friday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYAutosXfinity: ToyotaCare 250 qualifying4 p.m.FS1Monster Energy Cup: Toyota Owners 400 qualifying5:30 p.m.FS1Xfinity: ToyotaCare 2507 p.m.FS1BaseballRoyals at Tigers1 p.m.MLBTwins at Rays7 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMIndians at Orioles7 p.m.MLBMarlins at ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

TAMPA – Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith had surgery to repair a broken ankle he suffered in a car accident in Louisiana last week, putting his status for the start of the season in question.Beckwith was passenger in car driven by former L...
Updated: 9 hours ago

High school scoreboard for April 19

Thursday’s scoreboardBaseballDixie Hollins 8, Canterbury 0Northeast 13, Lakewood 3Calvary Christian 5, Berkeley Prep 2
Updated: 9 hours ago
Lightning’s Hedman a Norris finalist again

Lightning’s Hedman a Norris finalist again

The Lightning's Victor Hedman is a finalist for the second consecutive year for the Norris Trophy, given to the top defenseman in the league. The other two finalists are Drew Doughty of the Kings and P.K. Subban of the Predators, it was announced Thu...
Published: 04/19/18
Turns out, Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready for the playoffs

Turns out, Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready for the playoffs

TAMPA — The second period was not even four minutes old Wednesday night when Devils right wing Patrick Maroon skated all alone toward Andrei Vasilevskiy. It was a moment that could turn a game and even a series.A goal and the score would be tie...
Published: 04/19/18
Shaquem Griffin: ‘Lightning is going to win the Stanley Cup’

Shaquem Griffin: ‘Lightning is going to win the Stanley Cup’

Former UCF and Lakewood High standout Shaquem Griffin understandably has been focused on the NFL draft next week in Arlington, Tex., where he is projected as a potential second-day pick.But the Lightning's playoff run  hasn't escaped his attenti...
Published: 04/19/18