TAMPA — His fourth voyage to the precipice of prep baseball immortality seems mildly different than the previous three. Spencer Trayner believes it’s due to the collection of passengers making this latest May sojourn.
The Jesuit senior calls it “the grittiest, scrappiest team yet so far that I’ve been a part of,” and history corroborates.
Class 5A region final, two Fridays ago: Down 4-3 to Auburndale in the bottom of the seventh, Trayner fought off a 1-2 count to draw a one-out walk off Bloodhounds starter and slider extraordinaire Burris Warner.
Another out later, Leland Saile drew a walk. After a Hounds pitching change, Ryan McCullers walked, followed by Daniel Portales, who worked the count full before walking in the tying run. Ricky Caldevilla then followed with a hit to right. Ball game.
“That’s exactly what I mean,” said Trayner, the Tigers’ right-handed power pitcher and shortstop. “Never giving up.”
In a spring where Jesuit’s senior class appears bereft of a high-round draftee (like Lance McCullers or, for the old-schoolers, Troy Carrasco), the Tigers (27-2), perhaps more than ever, have reached the state tournament via the sum of their parts.
“This is my seventh year and we’ve coached a lot of good teams in my seven years, but there’s something different about this collection of guys,” coach Richie Warren said.
“There’s not necessarily a superstar. …We have a lot of guys going to Division-I baseball, but there’s not one guy like (Jesuit alum and 2012 supplemental first-rounder) Lance McCullers or (potential draftees) Tyler Danish (of Durant) or Brett Morales (of King) where they’re getting all the attention.”
Perhaps no one symbolizes the pluck and plight of this program more than Trayner, a University of North Carolina signee believed to be among only a handful of Tigers players to make four state tournament trips.
Douse him with a Gatorade bath, and Trayner’s 6-foot frame still might carry only 180 pounds. What he lacks in pop (one home run), he atones for with proficiency (.463, 24 RBIs).
And his fastball tops out at 95 mph. Trayner, reared in the Bayshore Little League, enters Wednesday’s Class 5A semifinal against Ponte Vedra with a 7-1 record and 1.25 ERA.
“He’s just a competitor. He’s going to go right after you,” USF-bound classmate Vincent Miniet said. “He doesn’t care if you’re the best hitter out there. When I faced him to start the season in an intrasquad game (Trayner struck him out), he came out throwing as hard as I’ve seen him throw since I played with him or against him.”
Maturity didn’t always accompany that doggedness.
As a junior, Trayner posted a 0.69 ERA in 30 innings but hit .288, second-lowest average among Tigers with at least 90 at-bats. For a guy who leans on confidence as much as his heater, the funk — by his standards — wrought an emotional toll.
The nethermost point: an 0-for-3 effort in a 3-0 loss to American Heritage in the 5A state semifinals.
“I’ve always been a very confident guy. You put me on the mound, I feel like I can strike out anyone, especially if you give me one inning. I’ll just throw as hard as I possibly can,” Trayner said.
“But at the plate I had to really focus. I had to be disciplined with myself, not chase curve balls, see more pitches and just work on my swing a little bit more than I have with any other part of my game.”
The result: Trayner enters his final state tourney leading the Tigers regulars in average and on-base percentage (.548). Warren, who says Trayner’s maturity has progressed tremendously, may even decide to give him the ball for the semifinal.
He’ll enter the state tourney seeking his first trophy and RBI. Like the previous Tigers teams on which he has played, Trayner has known only final-four cruelty (1-for-10, one run). Yet he insists this particular ride, this roster, has a different dynamic.
“I think he’s right,” Warren said. “They may be more of a hard-working group of guys, just because the limelight’s not on one or two people.”
Where: JetBlue Park, Fort Myers
Admission: $9, parking is $8
5A semifinals: St. Johns Creekside vs. Estero, 4 p.m.; Ponte Vedra vs. Jesuit, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
6A semifinals: Orlando Edgewater vs. Southwest Ranches Archbishop McCarthy, 10 a.m.; Lynn Haven Mosley vs. King, 1 p.m. Wednesday
On the web: The games will be live-streamed at fhsaa.org.
About Ponte Vedra
Road to the final four: Defeated Glen St. Mary Baker County 2-1, d. Ponte Vedra Nease 8-5, d. Gulf Breeze 4-1
Key players: RHP Matt Deegan (5-2, 2.05 ERA, 63 Ks in 54.2 IP); LHP Byron Yelverton (6-2, 2.19 ERA, 46 Ks, 44.2 IP); IF Max Miller (.269, three doubles, 15 RBI, 21 runs); P/OF Walker Sheller (.256, one HR, 14 RBIs, eight doubles)
Noteworthy: Ponte Vedra is making its third state tournament appearance in only its fifth year of existence. …The Sharks appear to have adopted the Rays’ blueprint for success — strong pitching (2.39 team ERA) and defense (less than one error per game). Ponte Vedra is hitting only .236 with one home run as a team, but opponents don’t fare much better (.260, four homers). …Six Sharks will play at the next level including Deegan (College of Charleston), Miller (Duke) and Yelverton (Georgia Southern).
Joey Knight can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JoeyHomeTeam.