TAMPA — Coaches always have someone whose name they throw out as the kind of player they wish they had a roster filled with. A player who not only gives everything he can athletically, but also something extra — a great leader, a coach on the field, the kind of player who is first to arrive and last to leave.
For Tampa Prep (11-6), coach AJ Hendrix counts himself lucky to have strong senior leaders, quality hitters and strong defense. And then he also has Luis Medina.
Hendrix said Medina, the Terrapins’ sophomore catcher, is every cliché ever mentioned — in the best possible way.
The backstop has set a blistering pace this season with a .542 average and a Hillsborough County leading 23 RBIs, nine doubles and three home runs through the first 17 games.
Last season, Medina hit .462 with 23 RBIs and 11 doubles, all while handling a pitching staff for the region-finalist Terrapins.
Hendrix said Medina has a natural ability for the game, but he might be an even better leader.
“He’s on fire, going back to last season,” Hendrix said. “Luis has always been a leader behind the plate, and that’s what you need as a coach.
“He’s a second leader on that field, the quarterback while they’re out there, and day in, day out he leads in practice, in games and off the field.”
Quick to deflect such praise, Medina laughed off his “quarterback” status, crediting his Puerto Rican heritage and his mother, Liza’s, influence.
“It all starts with my mom. Puerto Rican (people) are very demanding,” Medina said. “I learned from her to always show respect and doing everything you can to get the job done and making sure everyone does everything they can to get that win.”
Quickly making a name for himself in the high school ranks is something Medina said he takes a lot of pride in, but it’s not something that happened overnight. He credits a lifelong love for the game and years of extra work put in on the fields of West Tampa Little League with his father, David.
“I’m just playing hard like any other kid out there trying to make a name for himself,” Medina said. “It all starts from when I was young, going every day to the cages with my father just trying to be the best player I can be.”
Behind Medina, the Terrapins lead Class 3A-District 7 with a 5-0 record, also getting strong play from junior Matt Hodges (.333 average, 18 runs scored and 11 RBIs), senior Matt Fulton (.288, 14 runs and 10 RBIs), senior Nick DeTringo (15 runs) and senior pitchers Watson Ransom and Sam Martin, who are each 4-2.
Former teammates square off on mound
When Robinson hosted Jesuit on Wednesday in a Class 5A-District 9 matchup, opposing each other on the mound were two juniors excited for the chance to meet up.
Competitors at the high school level, Jesuit’s Ronnie Ramirez and Robinson’s Patrick Kiszla couldn’t help but enjoy the moment, as the two were teammates on the 2011 Little League Junior Division World Series championship team from Palma Ceia.
In the championship game, Kiszla had a two-run home run to lead Palma Ceia to a 2-1 win over Chinese Taipei and said the chance to go against his former teammate was something to relish.
“Going into the year, I knew there would be a pretty good chance we’d get to go against each other,” Kiszla said. “It was a lot of fun to have that chance.”
Kiszla pitched six innings and struck out six before a costly Robinson error allowed an inning to continue, and Jesuit scored three runs to spoil Kiszla’s chance for a win.
“I knew he was going to come out with his stuff and I’d have to come out with mine, and I knew it would be a battle,” Ramirez said. “It was a really good game.”
There are several other members of Palma Ceia’s World Series team excelling at the high school level.
Cole Gibbs also plays at Jesuit, and Trent Wessell plays quarterback for the Tigers.
Plant’s roster boasts seven former players in Jake Bak, Donovan Berry, Ryan Ellis, Dean Herman, Carter Leslie, Zach Rose and Jake Woodford, while Nicholas Kavouklis plays at Berkeley Prep.
“I’d love to say it was all because of my teaching, but these guys have worked so hard,” said Jorge Ramirez, who led Palma Ceia to the World Series. “I coached a lot of these kids since they were 4 years old, and I get a lot of satisfaction seeing them going on to the next level.
“That these kids have a chance to keep going with their dream beyond the high school level is really something special for me.”