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Hawk plays for more than strikeouts

Armwood star pitcher Mike Pete is inspired by the memory of his mother, who died last year from cancer.

By FRANK PASTOR

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 13, 2001


TAMPA -- He could see it coming, the same way you anticipate a drop on a roller coaster. But just because you know what's coming doesn't always mean you are prepared for it.

Mike Pete's mother, Sandy, battled cancer for seven years. She was hooked up to oxygen 24 hours a day. She needed help just to walk to the bathroom.

Pete knew his mother's days were numbered. But that did not prepare him for the inevitable.

Pete, the ace of Armwood's pitching staff, was scouting Leto last Feb. 19 when he got the call he had been dreading for years.

His mother had died.

Pete, like his younger brother, Brian, and his father, Phil, was devastated by the news.

But he held tight to something his mother told him the night before she died.

"You can do anything you want to do, be whatever you want to be," Sandy Pete said. "I'm going to be with you, right over your shoulder. Don't forget that I'm here for you."

Four days later, Pete pitched a shutout against Riverview. He went on to lead Hillsborough County in strikeouts while helping Armwood to the Class 4A, Region 3 final.

"I was going to channel everything she said to me into my pitching," Pete said.

A year after his mother's death, Pete helps his father and brother with the cooking and cleaning. His grandmother, who cared for his mother during her illness, has moved back to her home in Ohio.

There is another change: As he heads into his senior season, Pete has made peace with his mother's passing.

"I think he's a little bit looser this year," Armwood head coach Joey Fernandez said. "Last year, you could see that he was a little bit tight. He wanted to do so well. This year, he's a lot looser. He knows where he's going to college, and he's confident in his ability."

Not that Pete ever lacked confidence. The 6-foot, 180-pound left-hander expected to win every time he took the mound last year.

And he nearly did.

In 85.1 innings, Pete put together a 10-4-1 record with a county-best 151 strikeouts, 19 walks and a 1.07 earned-run average. He struck out 19 batters in a victory over Bloomingdale and tossed a four-hit shutout in a playoff win over Dunedin.

"With a little bit of run support, he would have won a lot more games than he did," Fernandez said.

Pete was at his best in the region final, limiting eventual state champion Jesuit to three hits while striking out nine. But Armwood left the bases loaded with less than two outs three times and lost 1-0.

"You get one more hit against Jesuit in that game, and we beat them and who knows what happens from there," Pete said. "If they won (the state championship), I know we could have easily done it."

The game marked the fourth meeting between the teams. Each game was decided by one run, with Jesuit winning three times, including the district and region finals.

Jesuit dropped to Class 3A this season, leaving Armwood as the team to beat in Class 4A, District 10. The Hawks, who lost just three starters from last season, appear worthy of the designation.

Leonard Anderson (3-5, 3.26 ERA, 66 strikeouts) and Steven Clark join Pete in the pitching rotation. Transfer Mike Hubbard, who hit over .400 last season at Tampa Bay Tech, and second baseman Matt Coty (.292, 20 runs scored) are among the team's top hitters.

"With the team we've got this year, there's no reason we should not go farther than we did last year," said Pete, one of four senior co-captains.

An 84 to 86 mile per hour fastball and pinpoint control helped Pete earn a scholarship to Florida. His mother might have played a role, too.

In her memory, Armwood created the Sandy Pete Award, which goes to "the guy who loves being out there every day and enjoys playing the game," Fernandez said.

Pete would be a great candidate for the award. But he doesn't need it to feel close to his mother.

She is always with him, right over his shoulder.

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