tampabay.com

Fab five sophomores reenergize Falcons

By CHRIS GIRANDOLA
Published March 12, 2006


There wasn't much guessing last year with Dunedin.

They had nine experienced, talented seniors who would start, game in and game out.

Like it or not.

And, they were supposed to win big.

Unfortunately for the Falcons, things didn't work out as expected.

Or as usual.

Dunedin failed to win the district final for the first time in seven years.

In fact, the Falcons never made it past the semis, losing 2-1 to Palm Harbor.

Some attribute the failed expectations to a battle of egos.

Dunedin coach Tom Hilbert simply chalks it up to "Palm Harbor being a very, very good team who happened to have our number all year long."

Nevertheless, what's past is past.

And the future is now.

The Falcons, who have started 8-1, feature an assorted mix of players, with two seniors, three juniors and four sophomores typically in the starting lineup.

But the wow factor definitely points in the direction of "the Dunedin five."

"They're just good," Hilbert emphasized.

The "Dunedin five" consists of sophomores Jake Rogers, Clay Kollenbaum, Cam Fisher, Max Kreuter and Ryan Schneider.

Rogers, Kollenbaum and Fisher, all 6 feet 5, and Kreuter (6-1) comprise part of a pitching staff that has a season ERA of 1.54. The four sophomores have combined for 22 innings pitched and have allowed only two earned runs and four walks while striking out 32. Rogers is the only one who has compiled any victories in that span, going 3-0, including Friday night's 2-1 win over rival Clearwater; the others have come in for relief.

Schneider (5-foot-9) is huge behind the plate as catcher, keeping the entire pitching staff, which also includes senior starters Brian Garcia (2-1) and Nick Starrett (3-0), in and under control.

"Ryan does an ungodly job back there," Hilbert said.

And he keeps things loose when necessary.

Against Clearwater, after Rogers gave up three singles and a run to open the game, Schneider went to the mound and gave his friend a "pep talk."

"Yeah, you can't exactly print what I said, but I basically calmed him down a bit with some high school humor," laughed Schneider, who admits to being somewhat of the "point guard of the group."

With March Madness right around the corner, Schneider and Garcia, who also is 5-9, get some ribbing from their taller peers, but Kollenbaum emphasizes it's all in good fun.

"We're pretty close as a team so it's just us messing around," said Kollenbaum, who also plays third base. "But we can't joke too much because (Brian) throws the hardest stuff out there and Ryan's getting the job done night in and night out."

And the Falcons have been getting the job done most of the season.

They've scored 10 or more runs in six of their eight wins with 28 extra-base hits, including eight home runs. Rogers and Garcia lead the team with two home runs each.

And, as Hilbert points out, the extra-inning win over Clearwater, in which the Falcons had one extra-baser (a double) and scored in the eighth without the ball leaving the infield, illustrates how this eclectic bunch has shown a maturity level to get them back to the district championship.

"Against Winter Haven, we had some similar things happen to us, like errors and base-running mistakes, that snowballed into us losing the game," Hilbert said. "But in the Clearwater game, it was obvious we had grown and learned from it."