HUDSON — This is going to sound cliche.
Sean Fluke is out to prove — well, you can guess the rest. After not pitching for Fivay High the past two seasons, the 6-foot-3 senior right-handed pitcher is off to a 5-1 start that includes a 1.92 ERA and a county-high 59 strikeouts through Monday.
“(Its been) frustrating, yes,” said Fluke, who was 6-1 with a 2.35 ERA as a freshman. “But, (the start) is a little unexpected, and I just want to cram in as much baseball as I can before it ends, and I’ve been successful because they don’t know what I can throw, so its been nice to come out and win.”
Fluke missed his sophomore season with an unspecified elbow injury, then missed his junior year because he had too many absences, which violated the school’s participation rule. While Fluke’s father appealed and won, coach Matt Hayes opted to keep Fluke off the roster, feeling it wasn’t fair for a player who had been with the team the whole season to lose his spot on the team. Hayes felt it was a lesson Fluke should learn, because it was something Hayes learned from his friend and mentor, the late Justin Kunick, the former Fivay coach who died from cancer in 2012.
“Its been a 180 (degree) turnaround,” Hayes said. “He’s in school every day, at every practice and game and meeting, and it’s all behind us. We knew what Sean was capable of, but never saw it until now. It’s definitely a big surprise, but, of course, we welcome it.
“Justin always said the wins and losses and strikes and balls don’t matter, but what does is they become a better person from learning from their mistake. And he has.”
The Falcons were 7-7 before Fluke’s seventh start Tuesday night against crosstown rival Hudson. Fluke was cruising along until meeting Brooksville Hernando in last week’s Farmers’ Bureau Pasco-Hernando Baseball Classic. It was Fluke’s worst outing this season after giving up five earned runs on six hits, including a grand slam.
“I’m still thinking about that pitch,” said Fluke, who also struck out eight in that loss.
Fluke is ready to get back on track with his three main pitches — an 82- to 86-mph fastball, a 12-6 curveball and a slider — to help propel Fivay into the Class 5A-District 8 tournament. The Falcons host it beginning April 21, in search of the program’s first championship.
“We’re definitely capable of taking the district,” Hayes said. “If we come out and hit the ball, then I know (fellow senior pitcher) Jarred (Mattos) and I won’t give up a lot of runs. We can throw consistent strikes and get ahead of batters, so it’s nice to have two solid guys like us.”
Hayes also has senior T.J. Niles, who is now a reliever, to back up both Fluke and Mattos. While Hayes expected the team to hit well, he knows it’s his three top arms that have led the Falcons to a 7-3 district record, which is tied with Sunlake.
Fivay defeated Sunlake 2-1 on March 4, and both are eyeing the rematch on April 11.
“It would not surprise me if we won the district title, and it wouldn’t surprise me either if we lost in the first round because, in this district, anyone’s No. 1 (pitcher) can beat any team,” Hayes said. “We have three big arms that can throw strikes any night, and our goal from the start has been to win the district title. And we feel we can beat any team in the county.”
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.