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Catcher proved most valuable

Bobby Wilson's all-around skills helped lead a team of stars to the state title.

By PETE YOUNG

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 20, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Bobby Wilson batted .457 with 9 doubles, 5 home runs, 39 runs and 37 RBI for the state champion Warhawks. The Giants picked him in the 26th round of the draft.
The name Bryan Bass was the most evocative and controversial in all of Seminole this spring.

Why? Because it was Bass who moved into the Seminole High school zone before the baseball season and took away a regular position from a returning starter.

It was Bass, the high-profile, hotshot shortstop from Fort Lauderdale Westminster, who was ruled ineligible over a residency issue after 10 games and brought negative attention to Seminole. And it was Bass who caused the Warhawks to forfeit those 10 games, smudging their otherwise perfect season.

That's one take on Bass. Here's another: His talent, work ethic and demeanor, in the seven weeks he was a part of the team, lifted the already-mighty Warhawks to even greater heights.

Says who?

Says Seminole catcher Bobby Wilson, that's who.

With Wilson leading the way, Seminole won all 31 games (the final 21 sans Bass), captured the Class 5A state title and went wire-to-wire as the nation's No. 1 team in Baseball America.

How Wilson views Bass says a lot about how Wilson became the Times 2001 All-Suncoast Player of the Year.

Bitterness? Anger? No way.

Wilson is all about becoming the best player he can be, and Bass, a sterling athlete and fiery competitor, helped raise the bar in his short time.

"Bryan brought a great attitude and work ethic. His addition helped a lot," Wilson said of Bass, who was chosen with the No. 31 overall pick in the major-league draft two weeks ago and has signed with Alabama to play football. "He showed us the way to do things.

"He knew how to win and the way to play, and he made us better players and a better team."

Wilson, who has signed with Mississippi and St. Petersburg Junior College, was the total package in 2001: team leader, defensive stud and productive cleanup hitter. He batted .457 with 9 doubles, 5 home runs, 39 runs, 37 RBI, a .536 on-base percentage and a .723 slugging percentage.

Seminole coach Scott Miller called Wilson the Warhawks' "backbone." The compliment is amplified considering six Seminole players were chosen in the draft, equaling a high school record.

"Bobby made it very easy for me," Miller said.

"I just automatically wrote his name in the No. 4 slot in the order every game."

While most Seminole games were blowouts -- the Warhawks won 27 of 31 by four or more runs -- Wilson (6 feet 1, 210 pounds), a 26th-round selection by the Giants, was at his best in the biggest moments.

Clinging to a 3-2 lead with two outs and runners at second and third in the seventh inning of the district semifinal against St. Petersburg, Wilson deftly blocked strike three in the dirt then gunned it to first for the final out.

"I've seen that pitch hundreds of times get past the catcher," Miller said.

"But not on Bobby. His defensive prowess is big time."

In the state semifinals against Gonzalez Tate, Wilson's two-run single was the key hit as the Warhawks rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win 7-2.

He also hit two grand slams in the region playoffs.

The state and national title-winning season culminated a longtime dream for Wilson and his teammates.

Almost all of the Seminole players grew up in central Pinellas County and have played with each other for years.

Wilson, first baseman Casey Kotchman (the Gatorade national player of the ear), second baseman Jon Riggleman, pitcher-outfielder John Killalea, outfielders Jon Skorupski and Damon Lister and relief pitcher Paul Buhrow played for Seminole Little League.

Wilson and several teammates also have played for years with the Pinellas Rough Riders, an AAU team. This week, Wilson and Killalea, a sixth-round choice of the Cardinals, are in Joplin, Mo., for the Junior Olympic tryout tournament.

Several Warhawks had sensational seasons in 2001 as Seminole became the first Florida team since Avon Park in 1955 to win all of its games on the field and capture the state title.

Kotchman was a first-round pick and named Florida's Mr. Baseball. Killalea was 11-0 and batted .345. T.J. Large went 12-0. Ryan Dixon was hitting .521 with 29 RBI before shoulder surgery shelved him after 18 games. And Phil Stillwell seamlessly replaced Bass and was the team's top relief pitcher.

An informal poll of Pinellas coaches, however, was nearly unanimous: Wilson was the most valuable player of the nation's No. 1 team.

"I try to lead by example, and I try to help my teammates on and off the field. That means a lot to me," Wilson said. "We played on a lot of successful teams through the years, and our goal in high school was to win a state championship.

"We were under a lot of pressure this season, and we came through in every game. We did it."

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