Underdog. It was what the Wharton baseball was used to hearing. Never once had they won a district title. Never once did they find themselves lifting a trophy.
This year was no different.
With “not enough talent” in the eyes of the media, the Wildcats were once again expected to have a short season. Nobody expected the best season in Wharton baseball history.
To the astonishment of many, the Wildcats boasted a 21-9 record and captured the first district title in school history on April 26 against Durant (1-0).
They were led by senior pitchers Collin Woody and Shaun Rubin along with junior shortstop Tucker Neuhaus. Rubin controlled the rubber with a 1.68 ERA.
Woody contributed on the mound and in the batter’s box with a 1.86 ERA and batted a team high .341 along with hitting four home runs.
Neuhaus essentially did it all. He batted .329 and led the team in home runs with six.
He was the heart of the team making countless spectacular plays in the field and even coming up clutch when he was called upon to pitch.
“I just wanted to help the team anyway I could,” Neuhaus said. “It doesn’t matter what I did as long as we got the win.”
Winning is exactly what the Wildcats did. They played in the toughest district in the state and what many considered the toughest district in the nation.
To capture the district title and host the first round of the playoffs, they battled the Durant Cougars who had the home field advantage and came out with a 12-inning 1-0 win.
“It was definitely tough,” Woody said. “It was loud, hectic, and you knew any play could end up being the play that decided the outcome so we were playing on pins and needles.”
After securing the victory, the road did not get any easier. The Wildcats then had to play yet another 12-inning game, this time for survival in the FHSAA playoffs. Wharton won (1-0) on a walk-offsingle from Brett Kaminski against Sarasota Riverview.
It was only fitting that the next game was once again won on a “walk-off” hit, this time from catcher Reed Gray in a 1-0 victory over the now all too familiar Durant Cougars.
“We usually didn’t have too many fans other than parents at our games. It was nice to see more and more students and people in the community come out to support us,” Rubin said.
For the first time in school history, Wharton headed to the Regional finals to face Timber Creek from Orlando. The Blue Crew loaded up a bus with 47 students to travel to Orlando to cheer on their team.
All though the Wildcats had their roar and had a good offensive output, they were not able to defeat the Timber Creek Wolves as they lost 5-3 in a high intensity game.
Essentially the Cats beat themselves with errors and missed opportunities. “I mean it’s a tough one to swallow, but we have no reason to hang our heads,” Rubin said.
Wharton achieved more than any other baseball team in school history and set the standard for teams all over Hillsborough County in the coming years.
It doesn’t matter who the newspaper predicts to win the district, it doesn’t matter what team has the best prospect.
What matters is heart. Heart is what carried David over Goliath. Heart definitely carried the Wildcats to the Regional finals.
Some look at the underdogs as weak, but for this team it became amunition. To prove that they deserved to win.
Boy, did they ever.