WESLEY CHAPEL — Wesley Chapel embraced the unknown.
So did junior second baseman K.J. Bierly.
Coming into this season, much was unknown about the Wildcats, from their players to even how they’d fare under the return of coach Steve Mumaw.
“We weren’t ashamed of being unknown or being written off after losing so much talent and big names,” said Mumaw, who coached the baseball team for their first five seasons.
“I think a lot of players were unrecognized,” said Bierly, who leads the Wildcats in most offensive categories, including average (.468), hits (37), RBIs (26), doubles (8) and homers (3). “Everyone that left last year was a star on the team, but we have lots talent still.”
That talent, led by Bierly, propelled Wesley Chapel to the No. 2 seed entering this week’s Class 5A-District 7 tournament at Zephyrhills. That might be surprising since they stumbled out of the gate to a 3-3 start the first two weeks of the season. It prompted a players-only meeting, in which many thought teammates weren’t backing each other during games.
“I don’t know the specifics, but since then, its been a totally different team,” Mumaw said. “Right after that, K.J. also went on his tear.”
Bierly turned the corner during the 16-13 win over Brooksville Nature Coast in which he was 4-for-6 with two homers and nine RBIs. On April 11, he hit a two-run homer against Wiregrass Ranch to help defeat the in-town rivals.
“You work hard and hope to keep it going all season and into the districts,” Bierly said. “Everything has just clicked — for all of us.”
Mumaw expected a slow start in his transition taking over, despite being an assistant under Chuck Yingling the past few seasons. The players needed to build confidence and experience, but the talent was there, and Mumaw saw it from the dugout last year.
“I told them it would take time; it did, but now it’s what you see,” Mumaw said. “We always thought a district title was a realistic goal. We thought that internally, but didn’t announce it. But they also want to be the first team at Wesley Chapel to play more than one regional game.”
The Wildcats have had postseason berths in the past, but never won their first-round game. That was a major goal headed into the season.
“We’re thinking about Weeki Wachee, then the winner of Pasco/Zephyrhills,” Mumaw said.
“We’ve struggled against Hernando,” Bierly added, “but this district is tougher than last year. But we can all compete against each other.”
Wesley Chapel lost twice to Hernando and once each to Pasco and Central, but likes its chances to return to the postseason. Even as unknowns.
“We’ve been enjoying ourselves, even if no one knows us,” Bierly said. “Its been a great season, especially to finally get that win over Wiregrass. But we’re not done and we want to play on past next week.”
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @MikeCamunas.