Aaron Diehl was on top of the world in 1995. Pitching for Dunedin National, he struck out his 10th batter to end the championship game of the Senior League World Series.
At the time, Diehl said it was the best thing that ever happened to him on the baseball diamond.
"You dream about winning the World Series as a youth," Diehl said.
A year later, he followed that with a national championship playing for the St. Petersburg Police Athletic League under-16 team.
But ironically, there is a smaller title Diehl covets in the biggest regard: a state championship.
"The most important (title) I haven't been able to get," Diehl said. "If you win a state title you get some respect."
After near-misses the past two years, he gets his final shot at a state championship beginning Thursday as Clearwater Central Catholic awaits the winner of the Berkeley Prep-St. Petersburg Catholic game for the Class 3A, District 9 championship.
Four years ago, Diehl traded in potential state titles for the chance to realize his own potential. His father, Sparky, sent him to Jesuit because of the Tigers' nationally-respected program. But after spending a year buried deep on the depth chart behind the likes of Geoff Goetz, Sam Marsonek and Nick Stocks _ all of whom became high draft picks _ Diehl transferred to CCC to become coach Todd Vaughan's ace.
Diehl has thrived ever since. After seeing limited action with a sore arm his sophomore year, Diehl has become one of the best pitchers in the U.S. the last two years and CCC hopes to ride his arm to the Class 3A championship.
"We've always got a chance at winning when I'm pitching," said Diehl. However straightforward that may sound, it's true, and he has the accolades to back it up. Last summer, he was named MVP of the Area Code Games in North Carolina and also participated in Team One Showcase, a national all-star camp.
Armed with a fastball that has reached 90 mph, he has silenced bats to the tune of 108 strikeouts. Last year he led the nation with 168 strikeouts, according to an article in an upcoming issue of Student Sports
Over the last two years he is 17-3 with an ERA of just more than 1. He threw a no-hitter for one of his seven wins this year and is ranked 79th on Team One director Jeff Spellman's national top-100 prospects list and is listed as a Collegiate Baseball
Blue Chip prospect.
He credits his success to his father.
"My dad taught me everything," Diehl said. "He told me when I have two strikes on a batter I need to make him hit my pitch. He is not going to get a meaty pitch. I don't like it when anybody makes contact."
Diehl is pretty good at making contact himself. He hit .357 with 23 RBI in making the all-state first team last year. This year, his power numbers are up. He set the CCC record by hitting his Pinellas County best 10th home run against Tampa Catholic Saturday and is batting .386 with another 20-plus RBI season.
"The biggest thing with his pitching," Vaughan said, "is that the guys know if they don't make a play (in the field) this guy will bail him out."