After soaking up the Florida sunshine last week, Tates Creek's baseball team could have used mops to soak up the water from the tarp covering their infield on a dark and stormy Tuesday night.
Despite the gloomy Kentucky weather and a so-so 3-6 start to their season, the Commodores are clear-eyed optimists about their chances of challenging for a third straight 11th Region title.
"It's just been baby steps so far this year," Coach Dom Fucci said after Tates Creek's game with Madison Central was rained out Tuesday night. "But we feel once we get some rhythm and good weather going, we'll be contenders again."
Tates Creek graduated its top pitchers, including Tanner Hart and Noah Stone, and key everyday players, including shortstop Devin Hairston, who was co-Mr. Baseball, Blake Rose and Luke Rouse.
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But the Commodores return a solid nucleus that includes seniors Jordan Fucci, Max Sweet and Matt Neal, and junior Jaren Shelby.
Dom Fucci thinks defense has been his team's strength this spring, but he expects the offense and pitching to round into form.
"Consistency at the plate and on the mound will come. We just need to play a lot," he said. "So far the weather hasn't let us do that."
Tates Creek has a new-look infield. Jordan Fucci, who will play college ball at Samford, has moved from first base to third. It's a challenging switch, but Fucci is getting more comfortable every day.
The biggest adjustment?
"Just reading the ball really quick off the bat," he said.
The 6-foot-5 left-hander, a first-team all-city honoree last year, is an imposing presence at the plate, too.
Sam Lambert, a junior, took over at first. Juniors Spencer Coop and Parker Selin make a good combo at short and second, respectively. "Me and Parker have been playing up the middle together since Little League," Coop said. "So we know each other really well."
Sweet returns at catcher, and his coach said the senior "brings a lot to the table.
"You want to be strong up the middle, and he provides that leadership for us behind the plate," Fucci said. "And we put him in the leadoff spot because he has good speed and can bunt.
"We expect big things from him."
Sweet said he embraces the expectations: "I like leading the team. I've worked my butt off the last four years, trying to show people how a work ethic is the main thing."
The outfield is loaded with experience. Shelby is a standout in center, flanked by Neal, Kendrick Cruise and/or Trey Sturdivant.
Seniors Tanner McCoy, Parker Yeary and Josh Miller, and junior Grant Deaton lead the relatively untested pitching staff. "We're just going to get better as the season goes on," McCoy said. "We've got some guys who haven't thrown much varsity, but they're all coming along."
Dom Fucci said his team is still "looking for its identity" and he expects his seniors to help establish it. "They have to realize last year's bunch is gone and graduated, and it's their turn to be the leaders."
Jordan Fucci, the coach's son, said winning baseball is a Tates Creek tradition that the current Commodores are intent on continuing.
"It means a lot being two-time defending region champs. Just because we're a new team, a different team, this year, doesn't mean we can't do it again.
"We've just gotta bring it every day. It's a legacy we gotta keep on carrying."