High School : : Rankings
Thursday, February 1, 2018

No. 3 Warriors built on trust

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Calgary Christian Baseball

2018 High School Baseball Preview Content

No. 3 Calvary Christian Warriors (Clearwater, Fla.)

State Association/League:
Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) Class 4A District 4
Head Coach: Greg Olsen (7th season as head coach)
2017 Results: 30-0 overall; 10-0 4A District 4 champion; FHSAA Class 4A state champion

Key Losses: INF/RHP Graham Hoffman (South Florida); OF/3B Marco Benedettini; LHP Jonathan Fisher; OF Richie Mize (Tennessee, football)

Top Returning Players: Sr. C Matheu Nelson (Florida State); Sr. OF Eric Kennedy (Texas); Sr. SS Justin Bench (Mississippi); Sr. OF Ryan Coleman (Rollins College); Jr. INF Christian Cairo (Louisiana State); Sr. 1B Cavan Ingram; Jr. LHP/OF Nolan Hudi (Texas Christian); Jr. RHP/1B Braden Halladay (Penn State)

Notable Matchups: Feb. 27 vs. Clearwater Central Catholic; March 20 at Clearwater Central Catholic; April 17 vs. Venice; April 24 at Tampa Jesuit

                                                                                              … … …

THE CALVARY CHRISTIAN HIGH SCHOOL WARRIORS accomplished something during their 2017 state championship campaign that doesn’t happen with any regularity in most of the country’s high school baseball hotbeds like Florida: an undefeated season.

The top programs participating under the FHSAA umbrella – regardless of class – usually spend the regular season beating up on each other, especially once they dive into their respective district play. Top talent abounds on every roster and, as cliché as it sounds, anyone can win on any given spring evening.

That is why it bordered on remarkable that the Warriors’ record stood at 30-0 after they raced past Pensacola Catholic, 11-1, in the FHSAA Class 4A state championship game played at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. It was the first time a Florida school had completed an undefeated season since that same Pensacola Catholic program finished 30-0 in 2013.

“As far as the baseball experience, there probably isn’t anything that’s going to compare to that,” head coach Greg Olsen told Perfect Game last week. “We had such a great group of players that really cared for each other. I feel that what separated our team … was just the level of trust that the players had in one another and in the coaches.”

That worked from the coaches’ end of things, as well. They were able to trust that the players would always carry themselves in the most forthright manner and respond positively to the moment at hand, regardless of how big that moment was. They were prepared and focused on every detail of the game, big or small.

It's going to take that same attention to detail if Calvary Christian is to repeat as state champion this spring, and after graduating only five seniors from that undefeated team of a year ago, it comes in as the favorite. The Warriors will also begin the season on Feb. 13 at home against Bishop McLaughlin Catholic occupying the No. 3 position in the Perfect Game High School Preseason Top 50 Rankings.

The return of seven players that have already signed with or committed to the college of their choice – including six to NCAA Division-I schools (see above) – and the arrival of two out-of-state prospects and at least two promising freshman that are drawing D-I interest is the reason why expectations are so high for this group.

The returning cast is led by three middle-of-the-order hitters who combined for nine home runs and 98 RBI s juniors in 2017: center fielder Eric Kennedy (.556-3-39), catcher Matheu Nelson (.384-5-38) and infielder Justin Bench (.355-1-21). PG ranks Nelson as the No. 125 overall national prospect (No. 25 Florida) in the class of 2018; Kennedy is top-500/73 and Bench top-500/177.

“It feels great as a coach to be able to have those guys as a part of your program,” Olsen said. “Those three guys – yes, they’re great players and they’re talented – they’re such high-character kids that as a coach you know exactly what you’re going to get every day from them. They’re a big part of why our program is where it is.”

Nelson and Kennedy will be four-year starters; Bench came to Calvary as a sophomore, so he will be a three-year starter. The every day lineup is also bolstered by the return of senior first baseman Cavan Ingram (.345-0-11) and senior outfielder Ryan Coleman (.306-0-5).

The pitching staff will be anchored by junior Nolan Hudi, the TCU commit who went 10-0 with a 0.54 ERA and team-highs of 86 strikeouts and 65 1/3 innings as a sophomore; he is ranked top-500/78 in the class of 2019. Junior right-hander Braden Halladay finished 4-0 with two saves, a 2.10 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings, and will be a valuable piece.

Olsen got the team together at the beginning of the school year to play a short fall season and liked what he saw in the way they played together and fed off each other’s energy. These top prospects learned the importance of playing together as one seamless unit during their championship run last year, and are intent on refining that recipe for success this season.

“I’m confident that they’ll take the experience from last spring and use it to only make themselves better,” Olsen said. “That doesn’t mean it translates into winning every game, but I think we gained valuable experience on perspective; that was something that we talked about a lot last year. We never had a goal of winning every game … and it was never talked about.”

In fact, he said, the coaches talked about just the opposite as the season progressed. They stressed that the focus should not be on staying undefeated but should instead be on continuing to get better and to work on the things that they knew had to be improved upon.

That is what Olsen meant when he spoke about the players maintaining the proper perspective and learning from what they went through last year. They learned to value preparation and development versus wins and losses.

And as for that 30-game winning streak the Warriors bring into this season? Don’t even bring it up …

“That’s not something we’ll talk about,” Olsen said. “We’ll continue to talk about the process of improving and being a better team in March than we are in February, and in May than we are in April. (The winning streak) is not going to be a focus, and we need to enjoy every day.”

The head coach then paused briefly before continuing his thoughts:

“These kids play the year around and they put so much into it, but we really focus on them enjoying the team and enjoying going out and playing the game,” he said. “When the environment the players experience is one … where they can enjoy being part of the team and being a great teammate, that gives them the perspective to not get caught up in the scoreboard all the time.”

A lot has happened to the Calvary Christian program since Olsen arrived six years ago, and all of it is good. On the baseball side, he and his staff are going to insist that the players work hard and try their best to be competitive every time out. But that is not the top priority within the program, and Olsen talks to the players and their parents about it every chance he gets.

“The reason our coaching staff is at Calvary Christian High School is to be able to coach the game we love and to also share our faith,” Olsen said. “Our faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of our program, it’s a part of everything that we do; it’s a part of our daily routine.”

Winning has become a part of the Warriors daily routine, as well – Olsen is 125-46 in six seasons – but no one should realistically expect a second straight unbeaten season – it’s just so difficult to achieve. But it never hurts to keep the faith.

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