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Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Coach patient with Jefferson Dragons baseball team

TAMPA - Pop Cuesta never hit the panic button. The Jefferson baseball coach looked at his team when it struggled to a 4-3 start — far from Jefferson’s recent standards that resulted in two straight district titles. He didn’t see the losses; he saw a very young players going through growing pains and knew that he had a group that, while it might take some lumps early, was a team that was built to last. With only five seniors and a host of sophomore pitchers, Cuesta wasn’t worried. He is concerned with bigger and better things.
“This team is one that is built for the distance,” Cuesta said. “I told them at the start of the season to work hard and be prepared for districts. That’s the goal this year.” It all started to come together at the Saladino Baseball Tournament, one of the most prestigious in the nation. Jefferson is the host and was defending champion before losing in extra innings to Bloomingdale two weeks ago, but Cuesta saw his team grow up during the spring break tournament, when a lot of his players wouldn’t have minded hanging out on the beach. “I told them to keep working hard,” Cuesta said. “By the end of the season, we might be young, but these guys aren’t going to be rookies anymore. I like this team.” Sophomore pitchers Jordan Norman, Jonathon Diaz and Nelson Maldonado have come up big for the young Dragons, while Ryan Jones and E.J. Leto have provided senior leadership. Cuesta thinks his team turned a big corner at the Saladino Tournament and he’s as excited about the future as he is about the present. “These kids needed to realize that they could play with anybody,” Cuesta said after a recent 3-2 extra-innings win over Sickles. “They are getting where they need to be. The rest of the season should be interesting.”
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