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Sarasota High baseball searches for offense

The Sailors have sputtered at the plate but believe better days are ahead.

Sarasota High baseball senior catcher Juan Perez is hitting .474 as of March 27.
Sarasota High baseball senior catcher Juan Perez is hitting .474 as of March 27.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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Sarasota High baseball Head Coach Greg Mulhollen took his time, trying to find the right words. 

"We are putting the work in," Mulhollen said. "The results just aren't there. I don't know. Sometimes that's just the way baseball is." 

Mulhollen punctuated his thoughts with a tap of his hand on the padded fence at Ronald K. Drews Field, the home of the Sailors. There was nothing left for words to convey. The tap said it all: Mulhollen was disappointed. 

Minutes before, on March 26, the Sailors (7-10) had lost 3-2 to Hollins High (5-8). The Sailors' offense generated three hits, two of which came during the sixth inning — the only inning in which the team scored. For the rest of the game, the team struggled to create hard contact; on the occasions it did, balls flew right at Hollins defenders for routine plays. 

It was the continuation of a trend for the Sailors. The team entered the contest as winners of three-straight games, but those wins came after a six-game losing streak. Since March 1, Sarasota has averaged 3.16 runs per game. The team is hitting for a .238 average on the season. 

"We're just not squaring balls up," Mulhollen said. "We're not striking out too much. We're hitting balls. They're just caught. There have been a lot of 'at 'em' balls.'" 

Mulhollen said the youth of the team's lineup has something to do with that. The more experience they get, the more their approaches at the plate will improve, swinging at the right pitches in the right counts. Then those slow ground balls will turn into scorching line drives.

Sarasota senior Juan Perez is proof of Mulhollen's theory. Perez, a catcher, earned his first varsity roster spot as a sophomore and hit .154 with four RBIs over 39 at-bats. Last season, Perez earned more playing time and hit .319 with 11 RBIs over 72 at-bats. In 2024, Perez leads the Sailors with a .474 average and nine RBIs. 

Against Hollins, it was Perez who kickstarted the Sailors' offense in the sixth inning, smashing a stand-up double over the heads of the Hollins outfield to straightaway center. He would go on to score one of the team's two runs on a sharply hit single from another Sailors' bright spot: freshman Johnny Lackaff. Lackaff has just 15 at-bats this season, as he came to the baseball team only after the school's basketball team had finished its season. But he's used his limited plate opportunities to make an impact.

Sarasota High baseball freshman Johnny Lackaff has shown an ability to get clutch hits this season.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

On March 21, Lackaff knocked in the tying run, then the winning run, in the Sailors' 5-4 eight-inning win over Manatee High. His sixth-inning RBI single tied the game against Hollins, too, before Hollins retook the lead in the seventh. Mulhollen said Lackaff is a "spark plug" and a gamer: no matter the situation, he approaches things the same way. It's what allows him to come through in big spots. Mulhollen said the team's other young players have the same potential as Lackaff, which is why he's excited for the future of the program. 

"It's going to happen," Mulhollen said of an offensive turnaround. "I'm just hoping it happens soon." 

As of March 27, the team has eight games remaining before the district playoffs begin, and two of those games are against Venice High (13-1). The rest of the opposing teams are no slouches. The Sailors are second in Class 7A District 8 behind Venice, according to MaxPreps standings, but Lakewood Ranch High (6-5-1) and North Port High (6-7) are close behind. The final stretch of the season will go a long way in determining seeding for the district tournament. 

If the Sailors want to keep their position, the offense has work to do, Mulhollen said. 

Sarasota High baseball sophomore pitcher Cesar Garmendia has a 1.91 ERA as of March 27.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Mulhollen said the lack of offense has forced Sarasota's pitching staff to be mistake-free, an expectation that cannot be realistically met for an entire season. Still, the Sailors' arms are trying their best: they have a 2.80 ERA as a staff. 

Against Hollins, it was sophomore Cesar Garmendia who kept the Sailors in the game. Garmendia pitched 4.2 innings and allowed one unearned run on six hits and zero walks, striking out two batters. He has a 1.91 ERA on the season. Junior Aidan Young (2.21 ERA in 19 innings) and junior Luke Verwey (1.70 ERA in 12.1 innings), among others, have also been strong. 

But even the best pitchers need run support. Mulhollen will explore every option to make it happen. 

Before leaving the field following the loss to Hollins, Mulhollen called to Garmendia in the dugout. 

"Cesar, another great outing," Mulhollen said.

He took a beat, then added a follow-up question: 

"Can you hit?" 



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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