ESTERO — Before his team went out and won its 18th consecutive game on Thursday night, Estero High baseball coach Frank Turco reflected on a group of seniors whose departure will be tough to accept whenever that day arrives in the coming weeks.
Considering this year’s team features nine seniors, it’s no surprise that Turco is worried about the empty-nest syndrome.
“I’m sad about them leaving. I’m happy about their endeavors. They have to go on to college,” Turco said. “On the selfish part, I say to myself that, man, I have to go back to the drawing board again. I’ll miss them even more.”
During a senior night ceremony prior to the team’s 10-3 win against visiting Dunbar, the nine players from the class of 2012 were recognized. Accompanied by family members, one-by-one, Chris Brennan, Zach Culvahouse, Shae Flannery, Kyle Miller, Matt Pearce, Anthony Prohaska, Tim Schmitt, Tyler Selesky and Ryan Withstandley were greeted on the third base line by school principal George Clover along with Turco and assistant coaches Troy Beall and Gary White.
Turco had as much praise for his players as he did for their parents.
“This senior group’s parents have been awesome,” he said. “That’s why we’ve had the success with these kids. Sometimes I get on (the kids), sometimes I kick them, sometimes I hug them. The parents pretty much let you do what you’ve got to do. I’ve had great parents. I’ve been blessed the last couple years.”
There’s still plenty of work left to accomplish — such as seeking a third district title in the past four years as well as trying to earn that elusive trip to a state final four for the first time in team history. Regardless of how long a run Estero makes in the postseason, significant gaps will be left behind to fill.
“I think about next year,” Turco said. “They laugh at me because some days I look like I lost my dog. I am going to miss these guys. It’s a great group of kids, especially when they play the way they’re playing and they look like they want to be here.”
Early in the season, Turco wasn’t sure where his players wanted to be.
“There was a stretch in the beginning when I asked if they wanted to be here, or did they want to be somewhere else. They really started stepping it up,” he said.
In fact, after a lethargic 2-2 start, Estero is now 20-2 with two games left in a regular season that’s had its share of highlights. Estero has won 14 games by five or more runs, reached double digit runs 10 times and racked up seven shutouts.
“It’s a good bunch of kids,” Turco said. “Last year we made an incredible run. It was probably one of my favorite years that I’ve been coaching. We were hungry and played really good baseball. This year we started off a little bit slow. I think the kids are really hungry right now. We’re playing some of our best ball. I’m really enjoying being around them again because they’re hungry to play the game.”
Estero wasn’t very sharp for most of its senior night game against Dunbar, a club the Wildcats usually dominate. In fact, Dunbar sported a surprising 3-2 lead in the fourth inning until a two-out rally started with sophomore Ryan Keegan scoring on a wild pitch. Prohaska then smashed a two-run double to deep center that scored Selesky and Withstandley to put the Wildcats ahead for good.
Flannery — whose battery mate was back-up catcher Schmitt — notched his second win on the mound with nearly a complete game. Flannery plans to join the Air Force after graduation while Schmitt will be headed to Missouri University of Science and Technology.
The five seniors who have signed with colleges — Miller (FAU), Pearce (Polk), Prohaska (Broward), Selesky (FGCU) and Withstandley (Hillsborough) — have been on varsity since their freshman seasons. A couple of them played briefly with JV back in that first year in 2009, but this has been a solid core on varsity for four years, one that reached a regional final last year.
“It’s a good group of kids that can play the game. I always like seeing that,” Turco said. “These kids played as freshmen, so I saw that they had some talent, or the coaching staff saw that they had some talent. They were good enough to play on the varsity. We took our lumps…but when you’re hungry and you’re young and you have an idea, you have a chance.”
For a majority of the seniors, so far their best high school baseball memory — as announced during the senior night ceremony — was the team’s recent trip to Orlando, where the Wildcats beat West Orange and George Jenkins.
“I thought West Orange and George Jenkins was a good test for us,” Turco said. “We went up there and took care of business. I stressed to the kids that we’re not going up there to play baseball; it’s a business trip. We’re going to have fun on the business trip, but it’s a business trip. I think the kids bought into it. They played really well.”
The highlight of the trip — on the field — was an 8-1 win against West Orange. Kyle Miller threw a complete game five-hitter with 11 strikeouts and just two walks.
“I thought Kyle threw lights out,” Turco said. “Kyle is really making a name for himself. I’m really proud of him for that. He was our No. 3 last year and right now he’s one of the hotter kids out there. I think he’s got himself a chance to get drafted if he continues progressing the way he is.”
Miller has allowed only two earned runs in 40 innings, giving him an astounding 0.34 ERA.
NO-HITTER FOR PEARCE
Matt Pearce fired a five-inning no-hitter in a 12-0 win against Cape Coral on Tuesday. The Seahawks were 14-5 coming into the game.
“Matty threw an excellent game,” Turco said. “He didn’t have the velocity he’s had in the past, but he spotted up so well. I was more proud of him for that. He got ahead early and he got his breaking stuff over early. I thought he did a great job.”
Pearce fanned eight and walked one. His ERA is a miniscule 0.95 and he has 76 strikeouts in 44 innings.
Estero suffered a tough setback when centerfielder Zach Culvahouse — who had 10 hits in his last five games — suffered a freak ankle injury against Cape Coral.
“After the third out, he came over by third base and tossed me the helmet,” Turco said. “He kind of stepped on the base and kind of missed the base at the same time and twisted his ankle. He’s got a slight fracture.”
Culvahouse, who is expected to sign with Ohio’s Wittenberg University for football in the coming days, watched the senior night game sporting a boot on his left ankle. The team hopes he’ll be able to return at some point in the postseason.
Culvahouse has hit safely in all but two games and had back-to-back three-hit games before the mishap.
“He’s hitting .455 and I wasn’t expecting that from him,” Turco said. “I was thinking mid to upper .300s. He’s really exceeded what I thought, and he’s playing great defense. He’s having a great year. He’s a big piece of the puzzle, so some guys will have to step up to take the place of him.”