Lakewood Ranch Herald

Prep baseball | Lakewood Ranch's foe seeks third straight state title

BRADENTON -- Archbishop McCarthy's baseball team knows a bit about playing under pressure.

The Mavericks opened last season as the defending Class 4A state champions.

Then they opened this season as the two-time defending Class 4A state champions -- and the reigning national champion, as voted on by USA Today.

But the Mavericks know a bit about how to win, too, which is why despite all the expectations surrounding the program, they find themselves back in the state final four for the fourth consecutive season.

Hailing from Southwest Ranches, the Mavericks meet Lakewood Ranch at 7 p.m. Thursday in a Class 6A state semifinal at Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie.

The winner meets either Melbourne or Pace at 4:05 p.m. Friday for the state title.

"I'm very proud of this group of kids," said Mavericks coach Rich Bielski, named USA Today's Coach of the Year in 2011. "We've played with a target on our backs all year long, and we really went out of our way to stack our schedule with some very tough teams.

"We saw a lot of teams' aces."

Despite the difficult slate of opponents, the Mavericks are 25-4-1. And what's even more impressive is they lost

five starters off of last year's team, including two who are now at the University of Miami (pitcher Alex Fernandez Jr. and catcher Garrett Kennedy) and another at Florida State (shortstop Jose Brizuela).

Fernandez is 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in nine games with the Hurricanes while Brizuela has started 49 of the Seminoles' 50 games.

Outfielders Christian Thompson and Ivan Santos also went the Division I route and are now at Florida Gulf Coast.

"We were very fortunate," Bielski said. "We moved some guys up from JV and had some guys work really hard in the offseason."

The holdovers have helped, too. Senior Nick Basto, a senior shortstop who bats cleanup, has driven in a team-best 38 runs to go with his .345 batting average, three home runs, seven doubles and four triples.

An UnderArmour All-America, Basto has committed to FIU, and Bielski expects him to be selected during June's amateur draft.

Senior Jason Morozowski leads the Mavericks in batting (.466) and hits (41), and fellow upperclassmen Brandon Roberts and Adam Duarte have each scored a team-high 27 runs.

Morozowski has signed with South Carolina Upstate and Duarte is going to St. Thomas University.

Pitching, however, is an essential championship cornerstone, and the Mavericks have developed a 1-2 punch of Nick Travieso and Andre Martinez.

Another All-America, Travieso is 7-1 with 0.47 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings pitched. He has signed with Miami.

Martinez has pitched in three straight final fours for the Mavericks and is 10-1 with a 0.93 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 60 innings. He is off to Florida State.

"He has had some big wins for us," Bielski said of Martinez, a lefty who throws in the high 80s and low 90s. "Whenever he takes the mound for us, we feel like we have a good chance."

The Mavericks hope all of it is enough to win them their third state straight title. And if it isn't, Bielski, who also coached Hialeah to a pair of state titles (2001-02), knows it wasn't the pressure that got to his players.

"We celebrated last year, and once this year began, we tried to put that to rest," he said. "This is a new season and a new year, and we can't live off what we did in the past. At the beginning of the year, we said this is just like Opening Day in the bigs -- everyone has a shot to win it."