Moments after winning for the fourth time in as many games and by a comfortable five runs, several Estero High baseball players were bent over and out of breath.
Unhappy that his team wasn't more productive with runners on base, coach Frank Turco made the Wildcats sprint in the outfield for 10 minutes after a 6-1 district win against visiting Cypress Lake on Tuesday night.
That was the price the Wildcats paid for loading the bases with no outs in the fourth and fifth innings and scoring just one run, which came compliments of a wild pitch.
"We don't know how to put a team away," said Turco. "That's been a problem for us for as long as I've been here. I don't know if we have that killer instinct to do it. The kids are great kids. We play the game hard. But I'd like to see us put a team away and we just don't know how to do that."
Thanks to a one-hitter by junior right-hander Zach See, the Wildcats didn't get burned by their lack of key hits.
After the first inning in which he walked Joe Bocchino and gave up an RBI single to Ryan Bessey, See was flawless, allowing just one baserunner on a second inning error. See struck out eight in six innings, often overpowering batters with blazing fastballs. Sean Foster retired the side in order in the seventh.
Rey Dejesus (3-for-3) shined offensively for the Wildcats. He led off the second inning with a home run to left against starter Jorge Delfin. In the third, Dejesus ripped a single to left that drove in pinch runner Ben Davis to make it 3-1.
It was in the fourth and fifth that Estero could have put an exclamation point on a win, but didn't.
Singles by Jovan Afanador and Caleb Nemitz sandwiched around Marcus Klusacek getting hit by a pitch loaded the bases in the fourth. Delfin got out of the jam by getting Alex Lozada to ground into a force at home and Carlos Saez to hit into a 3-2-3 double play.
"(Saez) hit the ball hard and they got a double play. That I can live with because he hit the ball hard," said Turco. "I just don't like the strikeouts in the situations we need to put the ball in play. That bothers me."
The strikeouts came in the next inning. With the bases full again and no outs, Anthony Dejesus and Afanador struck out before See scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-1. After a walk, Nemitz struck out to end the inning.
In two innings, the Wildcats had seven base runners and only one run to show for it.
"That kind of frustrates me," said Turco. "I blame myself to a certain degree, but I can't get up there and hit for them and get those hits in key situations. We had a chance to blow the game open and we've got guys striking out instead of getting mentally prepared better and focused when they get up there. There's more pressure on the pitcher to throw a strike and our guys are helping him out. We're just not putting the ball in play."
How the Wildcats do at the plate will likely dictate how far the team will go this year. With a junior-laden squad that sports plenty of varsity experience, defense should be strong. Ditto for pitching, which is led by See, Rey Dejesus, Stephen Sheplak, Sean Foster, Nick Steingart, John Tolisano, Donny Knight and Derek Hatfield.
"We've got a good pitching staff," said Turco. "We've got decent hitting. That's going to be our question mark. If we can cut down the strikeouts and put the ball in play more, I think we can be a pretty good team. Obviously, we're not showing that yet."
Still, the Wildcats opened the season by knocking off Cypress (6-4), Cape Coral (9-5) and North Fort Myers (7-5) to capture the Early Bird Tournament in Fort Myers.
On Tuesday, eight juniors started against Cypress. Veteran third baseman Adrian Negron was the lone senior starter.
"There is some leadership and maturity," said Lozada. "If we don't get ahead of ourselves, we should do great. If we hit, we can play with any team."
Lozada in center, Tolisano at shortstop and catcher Carlos Saez are juniors and three-year varsity starters. In addition to Negron and Hatfield, the team's other seniors are Nick Garcia, Perry Delago and Anthony Brunco.
"We're a team that has finally matured," said Turco, whose 16-12 squad a year ago won a district title before being eliminated in a regional quarterfinal by Charlotte. "I've had a lot of these guys since freshman. Two seniors have played since they were sophomores. So the team has been around me. They know what I expect and what I want. Now we can talk about the mental part of the game, which obviously we're not drilling in enough because of the fact we're not hitting the ball as well as I'd like to see us."
Perhaps enough post-game sprints will get that message across.
"People say 'you're 4-0'," said Turco, "but I want us to do some things better. I'm selfish and greedy like that, but in a perfect world that's what I want."