When Daniel Bell took over the St. Francis Catholic Academy baseball program last year, he had little time to prepare.
He unexpectedly was hired in late December after the previous coach stepped down, giving him little time to get ready for the 2021 season.
“We kind of salvaged it, but we called last year Year Zero,” he said. “So, this is our first year that we’ve had these guys year-round.”
The 2022 team has more pitching depth, but they lost a lot of their top talent.
“It’s just a process of recycling it and putting it together,” Bell said. “The good thing though is we’ve got a culture of accountability.”
The challenge of holding the players accountable is that the Wolves have a very young team with 13 sophomores and three freshmen, and only one senior and one junior who see significant playing time.
“It would be nice to have senior guys that can teach these young guys how to do it, but I guess that falls on me and my coaches,” he said. “We’re the ones who have to stay on them and grind, but if you press too hard, they kind of wilt so we’re still trying to figure out how to articulate that, and how to be tough about it, but not to beat them down because they don’t have the background that a lot of baseball guys have.”
Bell, who had coached only travel previously, said he did underestimate what went into the high school season, but heading into year two the transition has been much smoother.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time but just the scheduling aspect, I was able to work on my own schedule this year instead of just picking up whatever schedule I got,” he said. “I was able to network with more coaches, which is really good for me, and just build those relationships.”
The Wolves are 6-4 this season and are batting .323 as a team.
Luke Fariborzian leads the way with a .538 average and a team-leading 17 runs batted in.
“He just keeps hitting,” Bell said of his sophomore. “He’s getting pitches and he’s hitting them. He’s moved into our 3-hole, but I wouldn’t say there is any one leader. It’s a collective group.”
St. Francis Catholic has seven players with at least 20 plate appearances who are batting over .300 this season, including junior catcher Mason Bell (.391, 12 runs, 2 doubles, 5 RBI), the coach’s son.
“He’s a good kid, but I never wanted to coach my kid,” the elder Bell said as he laughed about it. “His first year he played with Travis (Yeckring) at Santa Fe and that was the plan, but when COVID hit, he decided to transfer to a smaller school, more technology, so it worked better for him, and then right after that is when I got the job. He’s put up with me, he’s doing a really good job, and it’s nice having a really steady hand behind the dish, so yeah it’s been good.”
Another sophomore, Jack Steen, is second on the team with 11 RBI. He is batting .389 with two doubles and a triple.
Tyler Durstine, the only senior with significant playing time, is batting .333 and is second on the team with 10 hits.
The Wolves are coming off a season-high 25 runs on Tuesday in a 25-1 win against Cedar Key, but that was on the heels of a 21-1 loss at Class 4A state runner-up North Marion (Citra) on Monday.
Bell talked about the two games on Wednesday when he and his team were guests on “The Prep Zone” sports show on 106.9 FM “I am Country.”
“Overall, I’d say we have the potential to be alright, we’re just inconsistent,” he said.
St. Francis Catholic is in the six-team Class 2A-District 4 with Oak Hall School, Peniel Baptist (Palatka), St. Joseph (St. Augustine), Calvary Christian Academy (Ormond Beach), and Countryside Christian (Gainesville).
Mainstreet Daily News will be announcing their game online (audio broadcast) at district rival Oak Hall on Wednesday, April 6, at 4:15 p.m. Oak Hall won the first meeting, 11-1, on March 7.
The Wolves are back in action on Friday at 4:30 p.m. at home against Trenton.