King’s defense breeding confidence
He’s heard the question before.
So when it came Saturday, after he put his King High baseball team through a schedule similar to the one the Lions will face at the Class 6A state semifinal on Wednesday, 38-year veteran coach Jim Macaluso looks up through his glasses and offers a wry smile.
“It’s a great question, and one I get asked all the time,” Macaluso said. “And I’m not deferring to give an answer, but even if we win a state championship, I don’t know if I’d definitely say this is the best team. I know I can tell you it’s pretty close to being as good as we’ve had.”
Then moments later, Macaluso turns serious, his eyes sharpen and hand gestures emphasize the point. The question: Where would you rank your duo up the middle, with senior shortstop Devon Pedro and senior second baseman Tanner Williams?
“Now, they are as good as we’ve ever had,” Macaluso said. “We’ve got some pitchers and done some things well, but those two guys, for high school guys, have been unconscious. They’ll make the ‘web gem’ play, the routine play, they turn the double play as good as I’ve ever seen.”
Certainly, King (25-3) has depended heavily on staff ace Brett Morales (11-1, 0.45 ERA and 117 strikeouts) and will again look to the senior and Florida signee Wednesday as the Lions take on Lynn Haven Mosley (27-3) in the semifinals at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers.
However, even Morales, who has been unhittable at times, said the comfort of his defense behind him allows him to never second-guess what he is throwing.
“They have been tremendous the entire year, and pitching with them behind me makes this very easy,” Morales said. “You aren’t always going to have your best performance, aren’t always going to strike out 21, and I trust those guys with my life out there and they never let me down.”
Pedro and Williams have anchored the Lions up the middle the past two seasons, complementing each other like a duo that has spent a lifetime turning 6-4-3 double plays rather than just 40 games. They go to dinner every Thursday, spend time on weekends working out and talking about the team, what went right and wrong, and since the summer they have been obsessed with one thought — finishing.
“We have to finish the mission,” Williams said. “We’ve talked about this every day since the summer, we knew we had a great team, getting out of the district, out of the region, but this season is about finishing with a state championship. That’s it — a title — we have to finish.”
Pedro, simply stated, has a big personality and a big smile, He displays speed and flashy glove work, such as during last Saturday’s nearly two-hour intrasquad scrimmage, where early in the practice he broke hard to his right on a slow bounder between him a third base and made a Jeter-esque jump and toss to first base. The runner was safe (because of a loopy throw Pedro would later laugh off as a failure to properly stretch out his arm in warm-ups) by five steps. Pedro was confident the throw should have been made. The Santa Fe College commit has no lack of confidence, even admitting to a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, believing the Lions have been overlooked. His Twitter handle (@FutureMLBStar12) is coupled with, in place of his real name: da_underestimated_1.
“I feel like we’ve been overlooked a little bit,” Pedro said. “I can’t compare us to anybody else in the state, but I know how hard we’ve worked and how much we have put in to do what we have done in four years.”
In a perfect coupling, Williams is quiet, reserved and, according to his coach, “unshakeable.”
“Tanner, especially if he’s making the turn on the double play, is something to see,” Macaluso said. “The (runner) will try and knock him on his butt and he stays with it and can’t be shaken.”
And it’s not just defensively. Williams and Pedro, along with junior outfielder Sam Rowe, have paced a talented offense. They are the top three in the Lions’ starting lineup, each displaying speed and consistency. Williams (.427, 29 runs, 18 RBIs and 17 stolen bases) leads the team with eight doubles, while leadoff man Pedro (.395, 33 runs, 15 RBIs) and Rowe (.403, 18 runs and 14 RBIs) are all looking to be added to the board on the home dugout of all-time Lions players to hit for a .400 average.
“On paper, this is a pretty good-looking high school lineup top to bottom,” Macaluso said. “They aren’t all hitting .400, but everybody can do something, whether it is bunt or getting it to the outfield when we need it.”