LAND O’ LAKES — David Castillo will crack jokes.
He keeps his Sunlake baseball team, the first one from Pasco County to make the state tournament since 2002, loose.
“I try to be funny, try to keep people loose,” the senior southpaw pitcher said. “If you play too intense, if you don’t relax, you’re not going to play well. And when it comes to game time, we’re focused.”
“He’s a happy go-lucky guy,” coach Dick Rohrberg said. “They call him Richard — as in Richard Pryor because he’s funny and kind of looks like him.”
The Seahawks (20-9) will try to continue to play loosey-goosey at the Class 5A state semifinal vs. Jesuit (25-6) today at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers. Even with their fun-loving attitude, Sunlake has had an impressive, Cinderella-esque run during the team’s first postseason appearance. Its beaten impressive teams such as Brooksville Hernando, Pasco and Citra North Marion by a combined score of 11-3.
“I thought we had a chance to do it if the kids pulled together,” Rohrberg said, “but that first game (of the season), to lose 11-1 to River Ridge, that kind of set us back. When we started winning close games, we started to think we had a chance. We have decent pitching and defense, we just needed to score runs and the guys have found ways to do it.”
It’s no laughing matter that, in Sunlake three region tournament games, Castillo (8-3) has started each because they’re each a week apart. In that stretch, to go along with his season’s 1.65 ERA, 97 strikeouts and the no hitter he threw in February, Castillo has pitched 21 1/3 innings, struck out 26 and allowed just four earned runs, 12 hits and seven walks.
“The way its set up,” Rohrberg said, “you can have your No. 1 and best defense on the field every game. I’d be an idiot of a coach not to do that.”
Rohrberg also calls Castillo “wildly effective,” in that Castillo isn’t the most precise pitcher, but clearly getting the job done.
“His fastball has a lot of movement and he misses spots, like three feet high, then paint the black the next pitch,” Rohrberg said. “He’s hit a lot of guys (16 HBP), and I’m not picking on him, but he finds a way to make them miss. Hitters try to guess where he’s going and can’t.”
Originally from New Jersey and born to native Dominican Republican parents, Castillo comes from a big family that attends most games. They see him also be a force at the plate, too, since he’s batting .352 with 15 RBI, eight doubles and two triples, plus shows speed on the basepaths by leading the team with 33 runs and 12 stolen bases.
“I used to be an outfielder, but one of coaches had me pitch one day because I was a lefty,” Castillo said. “I can pitch better than I can hit, but I can do both, but think I can go further with pitching because I’m a lefty.”
“He can throw three pitches — fastball, curveball and changeup — at different speed and that adds to his repertoire,” Rohrberg said. “It keeps hitters guessing wrong.”
As Sunlake entered the Class 5A-District 8 tournament as the third seed, the two teams to advance were wide open, as “Dunedin, Land O’ Lakes, ourselves, Fivay and River Ridge beat the crap out of each other all season,” Rohrberg said. But perhaps only the Seahawks had entertained they’d become region champions.
“I always thought we could do it — the whole team thought we could,” Castillo said.
“Anyone that knows sports knows its great to peak at the right time,” Rohrberg added. “We have done that.”
Sprinkle that in with a few laughs and that’s made Sunlake the deepest Pasco team since 2002 when Ridgewood was 4A state runner up.
Which gets another laugh out of Castillo.
“That’s 12 years!” Castillo said. “That’s amazing.”
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.