VALRICO — They were young.
And they were exactly where Bloomingdale High baseball coach Kris Wilken thought the Bulls would be at midseason — 8-7 and in the middle of a tough Class 8A-District 7.
Then there was a moment where it seemed the Bulls decided they weren’t going to be put away, where the extra hit came, where an opponent’s mistake opened a door and a run started.
“It really started the second time through the district schedule,” Wilken said. “We knew we had to pick up three wins and separate ourselves, and that gave us a lot of confidence, knowing that we had a shot at this.
“And that’s where everything started changing.”
Bloomingdale won 12 of 14 games and entered the district tournament as the No. 3 seed. A win against Newsome, avenging an early-season loss, set up a fourth meeting with Alonso. It was a battle of aces, with Alonso’s Alex Faedo, a University of Florida signee, against junior Logan Crouse, who has committed to Florida State. The Bulls won 1-0, with Crouse reaching base on a walk and eventually scoring on Alonso’s lone error.
In the district final, Bloomingdale lost for a third time to Plant and was forced to take the runner-up road through the state regional tournament.
Then the Bulls became comeback masters.
In the region quarterfinal, the Bulls came from behind twice to top Sarasota Riverview as Crouse tripled in the tying run in the seventh, then scored on Cody Wilson’s squeeze bunt. Crouse earned the complete-game win.
The junior came on in relief in the semifinal, a fourth meeting with Plant. His slider was sound, and again he stepped up at the plate with a game-winning RBI double.
In the region final, Crouse again pitched in relief, and he scored the deciding run as the Bulls rallied to top Winter Park. The win earned Bloomingdale (20-9) a berth in today’s Class 8A state semifinal against Lake Worth Park Vista at 1 p.m. at Jet Blue Park in Fort Myers.
There is certainly a theme to the Bulls’ success.
It is impossible to overlook the impact of Crouse, who took the reins as ace from older brother Cody, now a pitcher at Florida International University. Crouse is 8-2 for Bloomingdale this year, with a 0.69 ERA and 112 strikeouts (third in the state), while earning wins in his last six appearances. Even in his two losses — one each to Plant and Alonso — Crouse struck out 16 batters and allowed one earned run in the two games. He also has scored 15 runs and driven in 10 this season.
“I hope I carry the load well,” Crouse said of his de facto role as game-changer. “I want that extra pressure to be on, where we need to be picked up or to be a leader, I always want to be that guy.”
The Bulls have had other key contributors, as well. Junior Conrado Skepple scored two runs, including the decider in the region semifinal against Plant, and sophomore Austin James singled in Crouse for the winning run against Winter Park.
Skepple has been a spark for the offense, hitting .382 with 20 runs, 13 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. Leadoff batter Doug Sandberg, a junior, has scored 25 runs and also has 19 steals.
James, Danny Lorenzo and Josh Mote have been steady producers on offense, and the pitching staff has been helped by senior and third-year starting catcher Jamie Calloway.
The youth of the Bulls and the team’s second-half resurgence was something Wilken thought would set up the team’s future.
“I didn’t think it was highly likely to be doing what we are doing now,” he said. “I thought if we could get them out of the districts and into the postseason it would jump-start us next season.
“But to be going to the final four now? Why not?”
Yes, the Bulls’ players and coaches are in a place they didn’t expect to be at the start of the season or at 8-7, but expectations change.
“I feel like when we started the postseason play it sunk in our head that if you lose you are done,” Skepple said. “The thought of going home, the last game is something we aren’t ready for.
“This has been amazing, I don’t think anybody expected we were going to the final four. We have to play like we have been, we have to keep making those changes work.”