Veteran pitcher/infielder Gabriel Lopez discusses team's transformation under coach Greg Dombrowski Andrew Sodergren/Naples Daily News
Lely pitcher/outfielder Cameron Jones talks about the Trojans' near-misses the last two years, and what it will take to get over the hump and win a district title. Andrew Sodergren/Naples Daily News
The Lely baseball team has been ever so close to capturing the Class 6A-District 12 title in coach Greg Dombrowski's first two seasons at the helm, falling by a single run to Barron Collier both years.
The Trojans enter the 2018 season believing they can be two runs better this time around.
"The standard the two years I've been here and the standard as long as I'm here, is we're trying to lay the foundation with the kids," Dombrowski said. "It's a group of kids I've been around now for three years. They're starting to buy into things and make some changes and adjustments."
Lely graduated three seniors last year, including ace pitcher Thomas Norman, but Dombrowski says he feels confident about the arms he's got returning this year. That group includes Thomas Nottingham, Robert Rossetti, Juan Garcia, Stephen Laboy, Gabe Lopez, Cameron Jones and Angel Palacios.
Lopez, a senior who also plays multiple positions in the field, says the dynamic has changed with the program since Dombrowski arrived three years ago.
"Seeing this program since my freshman year, seeing how we've all matured, I'm excited to see how we turn out this year," Lopez said. "The practices, the work ethic, how seriously we've taken the practices, stuff like that (are better since Dombrowski took over)."
Jones, a junior who hit a team-leading.326 last year to best Lopez's .325 by a point, says the Trojans are a much better squad heading into this season due to the experience of the last two years.
"We're expecting a lot of great things this year," Jones said. "Coach Dombrowski has worked with us a lot on work ethic, intensity, consistency, everything. Last year, we lost the district championship by one run and my freshman year, we lost by one run, too. So we're just trying to get over this little hump. We're just working hard to try and get everything to go well this year."
The last two seasons, the Trojans have struggled scoring runs, using speed to manufacture offense while the hitters slumped to the tune of a .245 team batting average. Lely did post a .361 on-base percentage and stole 80 bases as a squad.
Dombrowski - a former pitcher for the University of Kentucky and the Cincinnati Reds organization - says the Trojans will always put pressure on the opposition by playing an aggressive style of baseball, but he also expects the bats to come around this season.
"The offense should definitely be better this year, although I also said that last year," he said. "Again, it's all about producing runs any way you can. We're going to be aggressive on offense in different ways, and put pressure on the defense."
The coach sounded confident in his squad, with the opening of the regular season just days away.
"Our goal is certainly a district championship and a regional championship, and I know my guys are excited about the season," he said. "I know we've improved a lot of areas we felt we needed to get better at, both as a team and a staff, we're champing at the bit to get going."