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Pitching gives Lakewood Ranch High baseball the edge

Lakewood Ranch baseball senior pitcher Lochlan Radloff struck out 77 hitters in 2023.
Lakewood Ranch baseball senior pitcher Lochlan Radloff struck out 77 hitters in 2023.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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In high school baseball, potential success begins with pitching. 

After all, your opponent cannot win if it can't score. 

That's how Lakewood Ranch High has turned its baseball program around. 

In 2023, the Mustangs were a surprise team with a 19-8 record. Lakewood Ranch reached the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 7A regional semifinals in its second year under Head Coach Colton Chupp, a 2015 graduate of the school. It was a large improvement on the program's 10-16 record in 2022. 

The Mustangs had a solid lineup, but it was its pitching staff that allowed the team to be successful. Headlined by then-juniors Alex Vaillancourt (1.63 ERA in 60.1 innings), a right-hander, and Lochlan Radloff (2.75 ERA in 56 innings), a left-hander, the Mustangs mowed down the competition. 

The team won 13 of its final 16 games, and captured its district title with a 1-0 win over Venice High (15-13).  It was the team's first district title since 2018. During that 16-game stretch, the Mustangs allowed five runs or more just twice. Unfortunately for Lakewood Ranch, one of those games was its 7-0 loss to eventual state runner-up Plant High (21-8) in the regional semifinals, which ended Lakewood Ranch's season. Even in that game, the pitching staff was hindered by errors. 

Vaillancourt and Radloff are back for their senior seasons in 2024. So is almost everyone else. Lakewood Ranch graduated just three seniors. Included among the returning starters are seniors, Ryan Kaitz, Jack Muller and Andy Schroeder, who all hit over .300 last year. The offense also has its leading hitter, Radloff, back. He hit .396 in 2023. The upperclassmen will be supplemented by players like sophomore Carter Sprague, who hit .275 with 13 RBIs and a team-leading 8 steals as a freshman.

Lakewood Ranch senior Jack Muller hits a ball to the outfield against Winter Haven High in 2023. Muller is expected to have a strong season in 2024.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Unfortunately, the Mustangs won't have a lot of power in the lineup. The Mustangs hit just two home runs a season ago. However, with top-notch pitching, they can manufacture enough runs to get the job done. 

Vaillancourt, who is 5-foot-8, has pinpoint control. He walked just five hitters in 2023 while striking out 52.  That's the type of consistency that helps teams prep for big games, as they know what to expect. Radloff, a 5-foot-11 State College of Florida commit, walked 20 hitters in 2023, but struck out 77 hitters. He has an 86 mph fastball and his slider hits the radar gun around 75 mph, according to Perfect Game scouting reports. When Radloff was at his best, he was dominant, including in the team's 6-1 regional quarterfinal win over Winter Haven High (19-8), when he pitched a complete game, allowing four hits and just one walk. The two pitchers have different styles, but they complement each other well. 

Chupp has coached this senior class since he was the program's junior varsity coach in 2021. He's seen players develop, and he's not surprised at the success they found last season. 

He also won't be surprised if the group takes another leap in 2024. Neither should the rest of the community. Behind their frontline arms and a functional offensive lineup, Lakewood Ranch baseball is set up for success. 

Here's a look at the other baseball and softball teams in the area and their outlooks for the 2024 season. 

  • The Mustangs softball team, which won back-to-back Class 7A state titles in 2021 and 2022, will rely on a group of inexperienced players for the first time in several seasons. The only returning offensive player with a .300 or better average is senior Grace Shaw-Rockey, who hit .345 with 21 RBIs in 2023. On the mound, sophomore Olivia Carr will likely move into the team's ace role. She showed promise as a freshman in 2023, holding a 1.39 ERA in 60.1 innings. It remains to be seen how the Mustangs play under first-year Head Coach Taylor Gould, a former Mustang herself, but it is wise to never count this program out. 
  • At Braden River High, both the baseball and softball programs are trying to get off the ground. The baseball team finished 12-12 in 2023 and the softball team was 5-12. The baseball team seems more likely to take the next step in its turnaround, as it features senior outfielder Kyle Vaughn, who hit .313 with eight extra-base hits and 12 RBIs, and junior Rhys Klein, who hit .300 at the dish while holding a 3.31 ERA on the mound in 42.1 innings. 
  • The Out-of-Door Academy does not field a softball team, but its baseball team is coming off another strong season in 2023, having finished 20-8 and having reached the Class 2A regional semifinals. Senior Brandon Beasley will lead the offense. He hit .418 with 32 RBIs in 2023. Senior Nolan Naese, who led the team's returnees with three home runs, will also provide some pop. On the mound, the Thunder will face question marks. ODA has to replace ace Luke Geske, who is now pitching for Florida SouthWestern State College, and closer Jack Hobson, who is now playing at the University of South Carolina-Aiken. The offense should be able to keep the team afloat while ODA sorts its pitching staff out. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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