Unlike two seasons ago, Bloomingdale feels it rightly belongs in the semifinals.
By MIKE READLING
Published May 28, 2004
VALRICO - If you want to see a snapshot of the Bloomingdale baseball team's growth the past three years, look no farther than catcher Ryan Collins.
Collins is the 6-foot-2 catcher with the stubbly cheeks and icy glare that causes onlookers to question which junior college he transferred from. When the pads are on or there is a bat in his hands, Collins is a study in intensity, focus and intimidation.
When he is out of uniform, he is just a normal 18-year-old, hoping to win a state title. "When I get on the field, it's all business," he said.
That's the Bulls in a nutshell - a bunch of normal high school athletes who hang out on weekends at bowling alleys and restaurants, but come together as one of the state's best teams when they take the field.
"We have a lot more team chemistry than in the past. We communicate a lot better out here now," Collins said. "When we're out it's all we talk about. What we need to do to get back to the state championship. It's what we've talked for the past month since we started the playoffs."
These Bulls know what it takes to earn a trip to Legends Field, where they face Miami Killian in a Class 6A semifinal tonight at 8. Most of the nine seniors on coach K.B. Scull's roster were on the field when the Bulls lost to Hialeah 11-7 in a 2002 semifinal. A lot has changed in that time.
The biggest difference might be the fact Bloomingdale actually feels like it belongs in the state tournament this year.
When the Bulls qualified in 2002 it was one of the season's biggest surprises. They limped into the district tournament at 10-14, finished as runnersup, then tore through the regional tournament by winning three on the road. When they got to Legends Field, their record was 16-15 and the young team was tired. By the end of the Hialeah game, they were looking forward to 2003.
That's when they learned about disappointment. The much-improved Bulls rolled into the district tournament, facing a Venice team they had beaten by 10 runs twice during the season ... and lost.
"It was a shock," Collins said of the loss. "Ever since then we've kind of been regretting it. What happened? We just wanted to come back and prove that we are the team we have the potential to be. We proved it this year."
This season, the Bulls (25-4) beat the No. 1 team in the state (Santaluces) in the region semifinal, then traveled to beat Palm Beach Gardens to earn the state berth. Tonight they enter as the prohibitive favorites. Now there's just that nagging little problem of trying to bring home the school's first state baseball championship.
"I'm real proud of these kids," Scull said. "I think they've done a lot. We're certainly proud to be where we're at. But we've done this before. We kind of ... well, we want to get the final product."