The Lake-Sumter State College baseball team no longer hopes to win games.
Now, they expect to win.
As Josh Holt begins his second season as Lakehawks manager, he believes the team is ready to become one of the top programs in the state. LSSC finished 26-20 in 2013 and battled for a postseason spot into the final weekend of the season before finishing fourth in the Mid-Florida Conference.
Following a pair of rainouts, LSSC kicked off its 2014 campaign in Tampa against the University of Tampa junior varsity team. The Lakehawks are set to open their home schedule at 3 p.m. today against Pasco-Hernando State College at the LSSC baseball complex.
The Lakehawks earned the only postseason bid in school history in 2011 and Holt feels he is building on the expectations established by his predecessor, Rich Billings, who led LSSC to its postseason berth. Even though Billings has moved on to be an assistant coach at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Holt has raised the bar for the Lakehawks.
“Rich did a great job building our expectations around here when he took us to the playoffs in 2011,” Holt said. “Players know they can come here and have a chance to play for a state championship. That’s our goal every year.
“I feel we’ve reached the point where we believe we should win every game we play.”
Holt said the Lakehawks should be strong on the mound this season, with four standout starters. Righthanders David Wood, a South Lake High School grad, Michael Hennessey, Shane Crouse and Kyle Schackne are expected to be workhorses on the mound.
Wood and Hennessey return from last year, with Wood recording a team best 5-1 record in 2013 with a 1.33 earned run average. Hennessey went 2-5 with a 3.64 ERA. Wood also limited opponents to the lowest batting average, holding hitters to a .182 average.
“I think these might be the best four starters we’ve had at LSSC since I’ve been here,” said Holt, who served six years as pitching coach for the Lakehawks before taking over as manager.
Last year, LSSC recorded the third-best team ERA in the seven-team Mid-Florida Conference with a 3.28 mark.
Perhaps the biggest question mark for Holt will be the back end of the Lakehawks bullpen, where he will have to replace closer Kuehl McEachern, who established a school record in 2013 with 12 saves and a 5-2 record. Initially, Holt said he will lean on freshman right-hander Walker Sheller to be LSSC’s closer.
On the offensive side of the ball, Holt feels the Lakehawks will be improved over last year, particularly with runners in scoring position.
He said players are still adjusting to the new bats that were instituted a couple of years ago. Whereas the metal bats that had been in use for about 30 years gave nearly every hitter the ability to go deep, the newer composite bats react more like wooden bats.
“A lot of power was taken away when the new bats came into play,” Holt said. “We don’t have any double digit home-run hitters, but I like the middle of our lineup. I think they’ll be able to move hitters around, which we struggled doing last year.”
The Lakehawks batted .242 as a team in 2013 and hit a total of two home runs. LSSC was led by Dakota Higdon with a .339 average and a team best 11 doubles.
Higdon, an outfielder, is back for his sophomore season. Albert Lefran, who blasted both of the Lakehawks’ home runs in 2013, will not return.
Holt said he feels the Lakehawks are moving towards becoming a significant program in the state, which is home to many of the top junior-college programs in the country. He said the perception of LSSC is changing — around the state and in the local community.
“I want people to talk about LSSC baseball,” Holt said. “I believe we can become a marquee team and one of the best in the state. Our players understand our goals and expectations and they’ve bought into our program.
“Our expectations now are that we will win each game we play.”