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Wolves have something to howl about

By Bryan Burns
Published May 18, 2007


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For a while, Newsome High School was the Rodney Dangerfield of local baseball - it got no respect.

Entering this season, little attention was given to the 4-year-old program. Considering the Wolves had never finished above .500 in three previous seasons or advanced beyond the district tournament, the slight was understandable.

No one is overlooking Newsome now, not after 18 regular season wins and a regional championship that sent the Wolves to their first appearance in the state final four this week.

"We felt we were a little disrespected, a little overlooked, " said starting shortstop Stephen Branca, who has been with the program since its inception. "We definitely deserved a lot more (attention) than we got. ... We had a (preseason) preview up in our locker room that didn't even have us listed as a team to watch. That got under our skin, and we just went out there and kept winning."

Following a three-game, midseason losing streak, Newsome went on a tear. The Wolves won 11 of the last 12 games leading up to the state championships. The only loss in that stretch was to Bloomingdale in the district finals. Newsome avenged that setback with a regional final victory over Bloomingdale.

"All season, we've played really well, " Branca said. "We knew from the beginning of the year that we could make it this far."

In addition to being Newsome's best run producer -Branca leads the Wolves with 26 RBI, 37 runs scored and a .443 batting average - the four-year starting shortstop is the vocal leader on a team that features eight seniors.

"(Senior catcher) Ryan Swindell and I are both team captains, and we like our job, " said Branca, who will attend the University of Central Florida on a baseball scholarship. "We say stuff that needs to be said. Otherwise, the guys know what they need to do out there, and they've gotten it done. That's really been a key for us this year. People know what their job is, and they go out and get it done."

Newsome coach Chad Haschel, who will step down after the season to become an assistant principal at Brandon High School, is enjoying his last go-round with the team. Haschel will be replaced by Zach Walker, who spent the past two seasons as the head coach at Tampa Bay Tech.

"We have an opportunity, that's it, " Haschel said. "We've been kind of loose and easy about it. Let's take advantage of the opportunity. If we don't, the sun's going to shine tomorrow. All these kids have bigger things ahead of them in life than baseball."

MAGICAL RUN ENDS: Newsome's 14-game winning streak and state softball title hopes were dashed in the Wolves 6-0 loss to West Boca Raton in the state semifinals on May 11.

The score was even until a disastrous fourth inning in which West Boca scored four runs on Newsome starter Ashley Stubbs. West Boca later added two runs to advance to the state final, where they lost to Pace.

Newsome managed just three hits in the game.

The Wolves end the year with a 23-7 record and captured their first district and regional titles.

Stubbs, a junior, finished with a 13-5 record and set a school record for the most wins in a season.

[Last modified May 17, 2007, 07:23:52]


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