Lakewood Ranch Herald

Lakewood Ranch poised to make good showing in state tournament opener against Archbishop McCarthy

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Mike Mullen compares Lakewood Ranch's task in the Class 6A State Baseball Tournament to the epic battle of David vs. Goliath.

His kids are decided underdogs, but no one on the team is feeling sorry for himself. In fact most relish the opportunity, which will come at 7 p.m. at Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie.

Mullen has more than a slingshot at his disposal. He's got two unsung heroes in Seth McGarry and Zack Larson and a pitching staff that would grab Joe Maddon's attention.

Lakewood Ranch faces two time defending state champion Archbishop McCarthy, which won the USA Today mythical national title last year and has six players who made significant contributions from that team.

"We are in the David situation and that is good," Mullen says. "You have nothing to lose. You sneak up on somebody and become a world beater. I feel we can swing the bats with anybody and we are going to give them our best."

McCarthy (25-4-1) has two key pitchers in Miami bound Nick Travieso and lefty Andre Martinez, who has signed with FSU. Both sport ERA's under 1.00 and are backed by a power packed lineup headed by senior shortstop Nick Basto and Jason Morozowski, who boasts a team-high .466 batting average.

But that doesn't scare Mullen because he has a lineup that can be just as dangerous. It just doesn't have the notoriety.

"I was reading on Max Preps about a team out of Texas that upset two teams that were ranked higher than them and its motivation for us," Mullen says. "We know we are a strong team. We have some good arms and we can play. This is a great test for guys who are going to play at the next level. It's going to be a great time and a lot of fun."

Lakewood Ranch (24-7) has its own lethal weapon in Larson. The senior centerfielder leads the team in batting (.439), homers (4) RBIs (32), hits (43) and runs scored (41). He covers a lot of ground, has a strong arm and has made only one error all season.

"Zack goes about his business quietly and gets the job done. He doesn't talk a lot of trash or brag. He lets his performance do the talking," Mullen says. "He goes 2-for-4 or 2-for-5 almost every game. He is our top prospect and has been very highly recruited among the best Division I programs."

Larson gave up football his senior season to concentrate on baseball. He signed with State College of Florida, but is open to signing on professional contract next month depending on whether he is selected in the MLB draft.

"It's been my dream to go to states with these guys. We are like a family," Larson says. "Giving up football has helped a lot. I had offers from North Carolina State and USF, but my goal is get drafted."

The key piece, which the Mustangs were missing for the majority of the season, is McGarry, the FAU bound senior. In 19.1 innings, the right hander has compiled a 0.72 ERA has struck out 25.

His hitting never suffered and he is second behind Larson with a .437 batting average and has a .513 on base percentage. McGarry used his time in the dugout wisely, always trying to give his team an edge.

"The hardest thing was not being on the field to show my leadership because I love to be a voice on the team," McGarry says. "I like to help people out and it's difficult to do that from the dugout. During the games, I would take care of the pitch count and talk to the pitchers and catchers. Sometimes I would see what the other team's pitchers were throwing in the bullpen and tell our hitters."

The strength of the Mustangs could be the pitching staff. It has a lot of depth and McGarry is somewhat of the unknown. He is talented and can throw hard, but no one knows where he is physically because of the injury.

The pitching staff has compiled a 2.31 ERA. Leading the way has been Jake Axley (7-1 with a 2.27 ERA), and Brandon King (8-1, 1.89 ERA). But McGarry brings a whole new dimension and his presence could determine the outcome of the game against McCarthy.

"I would say the strength of our team is the team," Mullen says. "Individually, we look good on paper, but what brings us altogether is that these kids are friends. They get along and never quarrel and everyone has each other's back. We make a bad play or I make a bad decision and the players come to me and say we gottcha. Someone makes an error and they just say don't worry you will get the next one. That is huge."