Turning the page: St. Johns CD baseball team not looking back

Spartans, the area’s top team, focused on one game at a time

St. Johns Country Day pitcher Bradley Hodges throws a ball during practice on Monday. (Kevin Talley, News4JAX)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There’s no looking back. No living in the past. No regrets on the near-miss of a state baseball championship. Not anymore.

St. Johns Country Day, the No. 1 team in the News4JAX Super 6 baseball rankings, has turned the page.

Players don’t talk about how things finished last year, a 5-3 loss to Sarasota’s Out-of-Door Academy in the Class 2A championship.

The mission this year isn’t about settling the score or any sort of revenge. Players and coaches have left the best season in program history in the rearview and recite the the company line — control what they can control — knowing that 2022 lines up to be potentially an even better year across the board.

The Spartans are the area’s top team for a reason. They’re on the national radar as evidenced by a spot in the 16-team USA Baseball National High School Invitational in Cary, N.C. next month. St. Johns is as talented as its ever been, with outfielder Jordan Taylor and left-handed pitcher Bradley Hodges potential pro draft selections.

“We really tried to put it behind us, you know, and kind of divide last season from this season. It was a totally different team,” Lucas said. “And we can’t do anything to change the outcome of that game. It was a special season. And if you get caught up too much in wins and losses, you’re not going to be a very happy person. It’s too much of a rollercoaster ride in sports.”

If anything at St. Johns, last year’s ride was a bit more unfinished business than this season.

The Spartans were 7-1, ranked as the state’s top team in Class 2A by MaxPreps and riding a six-game winning streak when the pandemic shut things down in 2020.

That turned 2021 into what felt like a continuation of a year with big expectations that ended abruptly.

“Last year was last year. I mean we’ve really taken from what we’ve learned last year and dumped it because this is a new year, a new team, new us, a new plan about how we’re going to go about things. So, we can’t really control what happened last year, but we can control we how we react to it. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

Through 10 games this year, the Spartans are 9-1 and wrecking opponents. They were 8-2 after 10 games last season. Hodges (23 for 39, .590) has been spectacular, swatting six homers already. He leads a lineup that includes six players hitting .400 or better. On the mound, UNF signee Finn Howell (3-0, 0.40 ERA) and Hodges (4-0, 0.78 ERA) are erasing offenses. Howell is 14-1 in his career on the mound.

What’s the difference this year for the Spartans?

“Well, we’ve got really good players. I’m a really good coach when I have really good players, and I’m blessed with an exceptional group,” Lucas said. “So this, this group of seniors I’ve had for a number of years. So, culture wise, we’re probably as good as we’ve ever been. Not that it was bad, but you learn something each season and you kind of take that. And this group of seniors I’ve got are very special. So, they’re holding all these guys accountable.”

Lucas said if there’s been any talk about a letdown last year, it’s been about details. It’s always about the details and never a particular game. Did they take enough swings in the cages? Did they get enough work in the infield? Did players do enough in the weight room?

“We thought we worked out a lot last year, but it’s like tripled that this year,” Howell said. “So, just how we work. How much effort we put into practice.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.