By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
WHO: Lemon Bay (19-9) vs. Bishop Moore (20-10)
WHAT: Class 5A semifinal
WHEN: 1 p.m., today
WHERE: Centurylink Field at Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers
RADIO: WENG 1530 AM / 107.5 FM in Englewood / WENGradio.com
ENGLEWOOD — This has been a season that Lemon Bay pitcher Trey Fields will certainly never forget.
But just three months ago, opening day was a day he couldn’t forget soon enough. Fields got rocked by North Port for seven runs in fewer than three innings on the mound, and he quickly realized something had to change if he was going to have a successful senior season.
“I didn’t have good stuff at all and I just kind of gave up early. It just wasn’t a good game,” Fields said.
But it was a wakeup call.
After that lowly afternoon, Fields started putting in extra work in practice and off the field with his father Doug, who also was the first to urge his son to train with weighted balls after his junior season. It’s all shown in Fields’ performance, especially in the second half of the season.
It’s also a key reason the Manta Rays have ridden his arm from the district championship game through regionals and into the school’s first state semifinal today against Bishop Moore.
“In the first half of the season, I definitely wasn’t on my game pitching, but I feel I’ve really stepped it up since then,” said Fields, who has dropped his ERA to 1.99 during Lemon Bay’s postseason run. “I’m throwing much better now. I just needed to focus more. I came into the season coming off of a pretty good season thinking I could just do it again without really trying, but it just goes to show the way I started off the season versus how I’m doing now that I just need to stay focused.”
The Florida Gulf Coast University recruit’s numbers are now closer to those from his junior season when he went 5-3 with a 1.18 earned run average and 77 strikeouts in 53.1 innings. Fields is 9-2 with a 1.99 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 45.2 innings this season.
The right-hander’s ability to locate pitches while changing speeds has separated him from the rest of Lemon Bay’s staff. He’s been deadly on the mound with his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, and he has the ability to throw 90 mph while also fooling hitters with a changeup.
Lemon Bay coach Casey Hanrahan has turned to his ace week after week during the Manta Rays’ run. Fields has started all three postseason games, including a no-hitter against Lake Placid in the district championship.
“Especially lately on the mound, he’s been more focused on pitching rather than throwing hard,” Hanrahan said. “That’s growth for a young pitcher when you see him instead of just getting up there and throwing as hard as he can to impress somebody, actually strategically pitch — change speeds, take a little off, keep the batters off balance — that’s the kind of stuff that makes you a good pitcher.
“When you get to states or you get to college or the next level, there are people who throw hard, but it’s the ones who can throw hard and also pitch that are difference-makers.”
The pressure hasn’t once gotten to Fields. In fact, he welcomes it, which is why he’ll be on the mound again this afternoon at 1 p.m.
“He’s come into his own. He’s settled in. He knows what he’s capable of,” Hanrahan said. “The kid has a lot of confidence. I’d put him up against anybody. He’s a competitor, he works hard and he’s not going to give up on you.”
Today will be the final start for Fields in a Lemon Bay jersey as he tries to send the Manta Rays to the Class 5A title game against either Bolles or Pompano Beach. It’s been a remarkable turnaround for the Manta Rays, who began the season 1-6 and lost their first four games by a combined score of 30-14.
Since then, the Manta Rays have won 18 of 21.
They’re ready to make it 20 of 23.
“I’m just looking forward to trying to throw another a good game and advance, and hopefully we win it all,” Fields said.