They met on the sandlots, became fast friends and got right to winning.
So it’s hardly a surprise that, upon entering high school, the current Jupiter High upperclassmen set a lofty goal: they would be the best team ever to play at their school.
“It’s something we’ve kidded about for years and years — wait until we’re seniors,” senior first baseman Johnny McCarthy said. “Now, we’re two games away.”
Today, the Warriors (23-4) face Altamonte Springs-Lake Brantley in the Class 8A state semifinals at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers. It’s their first trip to state, coming on the heels of first regional semifinal and regional final wins in program history.
Before this year, Jupiter had been to the regional playoffs 13 times — the first time in 1964 — but had never advanced past the second round. As far as baseball was concerned, “Warriors” was synonymous with “chokers.”
“When you live in this area,” coach Andy Mook said, “that’s the thing you always hear.”
Long ago, this group — nine seniors and four juniors — seemed capable of breaking the curse. They started in the Jupiter/Tequesta Athletic Association, winning regional and state championships. The seniors played in the Babe Ruth World Series at age 14. The juniors won the Cal Ripken World Series at 13.
“We’ve grown up together,” McCarthy said. “We’re brothers.”
On Wednesday, their last practice at Jupiter High, they remembered what they were like when they were 9-year-olds.
Hunter Halsey had a mop-top and a hyperactive personality. Kyle Keatts had shoulder-length hair and had recently moved to Jupiter from suburban Chicago. Later, in eighth grade, Kyle Vesnesky came from Coral Springs.
Parker Hamilton was a goofy kid who made everyone laugh. Fraternal twins Guy and Glen Casaceli didn’t say much.
Pat Walther and Peter Sitaras were small, but could hit. McCarthy — “a little chunky boy,” his close friend Scott Danek said — had the most power.
One year behind were Kevin and Lance Fry — identical twins none of the others could tell apart — Brandon Keithley and Logan Heiser.
They’re young men now. McCarthy, now 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, led the team in homers (6) and RBIs (34). Sitaras (.442) and Walther (.382) led the team in hitting. Keatts and Halsey ditched the haircuts and became, along with Lance Fry, Danek and Keithley, the most valuable pitchers.
“It’s tremendous for us because they pick each other up,” Mook said. “They care about each other.”
After losing their regular-season finale to an underdog Cardinal Newman squad, the Warriors had a players-only meeting at McCarthy’s house. Over homemade chicken parmigiana and meatballs, they refocused. The next week, they survived a tough District 9-8A tournament and won three regional games by a combined score of 25-3.
Friday’s opponent, Lake Brantley, will likely start senior right-hander Mitchell Jordan, who is 10-1 with a 1.01 ERA and four shutouts. Jordan, who has signed with Stetson, has struck out 96 and walked just 11 in 76 innings. Jordan, sophomore Bryce Tucker (6-1, 1.75) and seven others have combined for a staff ERA of 1.60 and a 205-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The winner will play the winner of the semifinal matchup between Hialeah-American and Plant City-Durant in the state final at 7:35 p.m. Saturday. No matter what happens this weekend, however, this group will be remembered for the goal they reached.
“Since Day 1 here as freshmen, (we wanted) to be the best team that came out of Jupiter,” said Danek, who went 7-0 with a 1.23 ERA and is expected to start today. “We’ve proven it so far, but we have unfinished business.”