Calvary Christian players, coaches and administrators gather around for a group prayer April 6 following the Warriors’ 3-2 win over their crosstown, non-district rival Countryside.
CLEARWATER – In professional sports, chemistry is considered an overrated aspect of a team’s success, or failure. But in high school athletics, on-field chemistry can be as important as getting a good grade in chemistry class.
The Calvary Christian Warriors baseball team is currently enjoying one of the most successful seasons in program history, owning an unblemished 16-0 record at the time of this writing, sitting atop the unofficial top 25 in Tampa Bay standings and coming off a huge, come-from-behind road win at perennial Pinellas County power, Countryside.
And to a person, Warriors coaches, players and administrators cite consistency and team chemistry as the keys to Calvary’s success.
“We’ve just been very consistent,” head coach Greg Olsen, who took over the Warriors program after leaving Seminole High in 2012, said prior to the Countryside game on April 6. “Day in day out, practice, games, we’re not focusing on the outcome, we’re just focusing on our guys getting better and not getting caught up in batting average, ERA and all that stuff.”
“On top of that, guys are just having fun with it,” he added. “I think, at this level or any level, as soon as that gets away from a team and you try and do too much, it doesn’t work. These guys work hard. They play a lot of baseball over the summer with travel ball, and we have a short season in the fall. Being at a small school, a lot of these guys play different sports – football, basketball, soccer. But I could tell that as a group, they were looking forward to getting going in January.”
“They play loose, and they enjoy being together,” Warriors Athletic Director Darrell Don said. “They’re comfortable and they believe they can win every game, and that confidence builds every game.”
The feeling of camaraderie was echoed by two of Calvary’s star players, shortstop/pitcher Graham Hoffman and catcher Matt Nelson.
In Hoffman’s four years as a starter, Calvary has a 77-24 record, and he agreed with his head coach about why the program is enjoying such success.
“I think this year our team is extremely relaxed,” Hoffman, who is batting .383 with five extra base hits and 17 RBIs, plus six saves, this season, said. “We bond very well together. We’re just having fun, we’re not like, ‘oh we’re 13-0, we’ve got to keep it going.’ We’re just playing our game and if it works, great, and if not, we’re still gonna have fun as a team. I think as a team we’re having fun together, everybody is more relaxed, and we’re just playing our game.”
Nelson, a Florida State commit who is batting .404 with 10 extra base hits, including two homers, and 24 RBI, took the Calvary Christian chemistry lesson one step further.
“I think we’re coming together as a group because we’re not just a team, we’re like one big family,” the junior backstop known for gunning down baserunners, said. “We all love each other to death, joke around and have a good time at practice every single day, and that just brings us together. Last year, we had a good team with some good chemistry, but this year I really feel like we have a lot more chemistry going on. Everybody just brings life to the party every day.”
A party atmosphere can be great, especially for high school kids. But don’t let all the talk about having fun and being loose fool you. The Warriors, loaded with talent, including a pitching staff that has allowed just 16 runs all season, are as tough and dedicated as any team out there, which was exemplified by its 3-2 victory over the Cougars.
Trailing 2-0 and with ace Jonathan Fisher struggling, Olsen stayed with his starter, who escaped a jam to keep Calvary in the game; the Warriors would go on to score three runs, including two in the sixth and one in the seventh, to knock off their crosstown, non-district, rival.
“We’ll take it every day of the week,” Olsen said after the game. “Our guys showed a lot of fight, especially in innings 5, 6 and 7, and made big plays in the big moments. Our starter, Jon Fisher … was frustrated that he was not on his game, but he battled and got out of the inning, and that is a game changing moment. It’s moments like that that are huge. So it was a great team win.”
With a 9-0 record and a three-game lead over CCC in Class 4A, District 4, a return to the postseason is all but assured for the Warriors.
But this team won’t be satisfied with a playoff appearance; they hope to ride their winning formula of fun plus hard work plus chemistry all the way to states.
“Of course we want to stay undefeated. That would be awesome,” Hoffman candidly admitted. “But I think the most important thing is going as far as possible, and our end goal is to win states. And we will do whatever it takes to get there.”