Underdog mentality has kept St. Johns Country Day baseball team focused on its mission

Spartans play in the Class 2A state semifinals on Thursday

St. Johns Country Day baseball coach Tom Lucas, center, talks to his players after practice on Wednesday morning. (Justin Barney, News4JAX)

ORANGE PARK, Fla. – The St. Johns Country Day baseball team was delayed, not denied.

One season after a regional final heartbreak, the Spartans are back on the state stage and ready to make up for lost time.

The Spartans (25-4) face Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy (16-9-1) on Thursday at 1 p.m. at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, a spot that last year’s St. Johns team figured it would be in.

But the prospect-packed Spartans, led by Bradley Hodges, Jordan Taylor, Finn Howell and eight other seniors, were stunned by Tallahassee North Florida Christian one win shy of the final four. That’s why this season has taken on a bit of an unfinished business mantra. Coach Tom Lucas said that the Spartans have approached this year like they’re constant underdogs. And that approach — heads down and solely focused on the mission — has paid off.

“I mean, this is a different team. And this team has taken on their own identity, which I’ve liked. That kind of played with a chip on their shoulder,” Lucas said. “We lost some really big horses last year and so we’ve been kind of beating the drum that nobody expects a lot out of you. You lost at Virginia and Florida State and UNF kids, and these guys have kind of liked that role.”

St. Johns lost an excellent start in 2020 to the pandemic. They followed with a state runner-up season in 2021. Last year was expected to be the year for the Spartans before NFC upset them in the third round.

“It’s a great group of kids. I mean really each season is its own season,” Lucas said. “These guys are trying to do something that no other team has done. As good as we’ve been over the last four or five years, they’ve got a chance to leave a legacy mark here and hang a banner. And nobody has done that. With all the regional finals and going and being a state runner-up, they’ve kind of they’ve got their heart set on, ‘We want to be the first one to actually win a state title.”

This year’s St. Johns team got a regional final rematch with NFC and made amends with a 10-5 win. Shortstop Shawn Andrade (.333, 4 HR, 17 RBI) said that the key in keeping the Spartans’ success going is staying the course.

“Just don’t let your low get too low and your high get too high,” he said. “Stay even keeled and just let your game take over and don’t think about it too much. But I’m just proud of all my teammates, especially the younger players who have stepped up.”

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.