Fourth-year coach Ricky Ware has yet to have a winning season at Saint Leo, but the Lions have never had four straight losing seasons.
Early indications are that Ware is in store for his first winning record. Saint Leo has had three-year streaks in 1973-75, 1991-93 and 2003-05. So far, the Lions have outscored opponents 62-41 in an 8-3 start.
"We've got about 50 more games, but it's nice to be ahead of the game," said Ware, 66-84 at Saint Leo. "We're done with the past. We don't want to lose anymore."
Ware credits the improvement to three factors: returning pitchers pitching effectively, a solid recruiting class paying immediate dividends and familiarity in the coaching ranks with assistants Dan Hersey, Copley Gerdes and Dan Prevatt, each of whom played at Saint Leo.
"From Day 1 we said the only thing that matters is winning and some of these guys are starting to believe it," Ware said.
Apparently, not all have bought into the turnaround. Saint Leo was picked to finish seventh among nine teams in the Sunshine State Conference preseason poll.
One reason for the strong start is a deep and talented pitching staff led by four returners: Ronnie Lowe (Ridgewood), Jessie Wilson (Pasco), Ryan Clark and Peter Martinez.
"I told those guys in the fall, "You're it. We're going to ride on your coattails,' " Ware said. "Those guys have the experience. That's half the battle. They all want the ball. They all want to pitch every day."
Clark and Martinez, both of whom are left-handers, answered Ware's call early with solid efforts. They pitched the front and back ends of a doubleheader sweep of Newberry (12-4 and 4-1) in the Bob Tewksbury Classic. Clark is 2-0 and Martinez 1-0. Lowe is 2-0 and Wilson 1-1. Lowe, Wilson and Martinez each have at least 21 strikeouts with Lowe a team-leading 27.
Matt Smith (Pasco) is the top closer with two saves, but he has company when it comes to finishing games. Jose Santa (Land O'Lakes), Eric Nokolaison and Michael Blanco each have a save.
The key newcomers include first baseman Eric Spicer, utility player David Scott, shortstop Jerry Gonzalez and third baseman Devon Cason. None has had a greater impact than Spicer, a solid fielder and slugger.
Spicer, a junior who transferred from Florida College where he was his team's most valuable player and an All-American, has a 1.000 fielding percentage. He is even more impressive at the plate, leading the Lions in batting average (.474), home runs (four), RBIs (11), runs (10) and hits (18).
Ware said Spicer, who bats third, helps cleanup hitter Rhett Teller, who has three home runs and nine RBIs.
"(Teller is) a lot more confident because we've got Eric Spicer hitting in front of him," Ware said. "Do I expect those guys to hit and drive in runs? Absolutely."
Ware said the Lions are strong defensively at first base (Spicer), behind the plate with catcher Ricky Nolan and in centerfield, where former Pasco standout Matt Prowant roams.