With some of his experienced players preoccupied with graduation, exams, all-star games and the major league draft, Madeira Beach Post 273 manager Dave Pano needed immediate help.
He got it quickly in the form of sophomore Gary Fecarotta, who has emerged as one of Madeira Beach's strengths on the mound and at the plate.
"I really didn't know what to expect from him at first," said Pano, in his third season with Madeira Beach. "But he has taken it upon himself to be a stopper when we've needed him the most."
While Jeff D'Amico, Greg Hillengas, David Burns and Brett McKee were busy with other activities, Fecarotta helped Madeira Beach to an impressive 16-3 overall record and 6-1 District 16 mark. The team produced 13 consecutive wins before losing 7-4 to West Tampa Post 248 Wednesday night.
"Gary's emergence as a key pitcher has meant so much to us because you need five legitimate starters to win at this level," Pano said. "He has proven himself time and time again on the mound. He really wants the ball and his competitiveness always takes over."
Fecarotta proved that on June 8 against favored St. Petersburg Post 14 when he relieved McKee in a come-from-behind 8-3 win. Fecarotta struck out four in 1 innings to pick up the save.
Fecarotta, who played third base and seldom pitched for Seminole during the high school season, has compiled a 4-0 record with a 2.96 earned run average. He has struck out 31 in 18 innings with a mixture of pitches. In a game against Dunedin Post 275, he fanned 13 while throwing a two-hitter.
"Gary's competitiveness is a real key when he steps on the mound," said Pano, whose team is aiming to win its fourth consecutive conference title. "He just wants the ball all the time and always seems ready."
But Fecarotta is adding punch at the plate as well.
He is batting .326 with two homers and 21 RBI as one of a number of players who have sparked the offense, which is averaging nine runs per game while hitting more than .300 combined.
While Steve Wicks and Kurt Bultmann, both hitting over .400, have worked to get on base, Gregg Pacitti, Brennan Hervey, Hillengas and Fecarotta have been driving in the runs. Pacitti, who played first base for Seminole, is hitting .409 with four homers and 22 RBI. Hervey, of Dixie Hollins, is batting .389 with three home runs and 18 RBI.
"We hit 35 home runs last year," Pano said. "I expect those guys to knock in some runs just like I expect Wicks and Bultmann to get on base."
Madeira Beach also has received huge contributions from others, especially Dixie Hollins junior right-hander Roy Smith. He is 2-0 and has come on as one of the spot starters.
"With Gary coming on strong, we have five starters we can put on the hill and feel comfortable with," said Pano, whose team plays more than 50 games. "Roy just gives our pitching staff more depth because we have another live arm we can use in key situations."
D'Amico, McKee, Fecarotta and Smith have compiled a 14-0 mark and a combined earned-run average of under 3.00. Burns, the other main starter, has been bothered by tightness in his shoulder but is expected to return this week.
His return and that of the other seniors who have been involved in off-the-field activities. have come just in time as Madeira Beach went through a stretch of six consecutive games beginning last Saturday. It won five of them.
Comeback time: Gulfport Post 125 put together an impressive rally Wednesday night, scoring two runs in the ninth inning to edge Clearwater Post 7 5-4.
Trailing 4-3 with two outs and down to the last batter with two strikes on him, Gulfport got singles from Trevor DePass, Jason Pierce and Keith Medosch, and a double by Ray Bolinder.
Harbor surging: Safety Harbor downed favored St. Petersburg Post 14 twice during the past week and lifted its impressive District 16 conference mark to 6-1. It played Gulfport Post 125 in a key game Thursday night.
Madeira Bch Post 273 16-3 6-1
Safety Harbor Post 238 6-3 6-1
Gulfport Post 125 11-4 5-1
Clearwater Post 7 3-4 2-3
St. Petersburg Post 14 6-5 0-4
Paradise Post 79 1-7 0-7
Dunedin Post 275 0-5 0-5