ODA brings a 22-3 record into state semifinals under first-year coach Mike Matthews.
SARASOTA — Out-of-Door Academy's Tyler Colditz started believing in his teammates during weight training workouts in the fall, well before a bat and baseball were present.
“First day in the fall in the weight room I knew our boys worked hard every day and we had a chance for this,” the Thunder infielder/relief pitcher said.
And that was was all first-year Thunder coach Mike Matthews needed — “I believed it early on because I needed them to believe it,” Matthews said.
Last season, as an assistant coach, Matthews had seen the progress former coach Tim Orlosky had made while building the Out-of-Door Academy program. He just needed this year's players to take the next step.
That came Saturday, when ODA defeated Spring Hill Bishop McLaughlin, 4-1, in the Class 2A-Region 3 final at home.
It was the first region title in program history and earned the Thunder a trip to the State Final 4.
At 1 p.m. Wednesday, they will take on Lake Worth Trinity Christian in a 2A state semifinal at Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers, spring training home of the Minnesota Twins.
“Now gotta go win states,” ODA pitcher Josh Cone said.
The junior left-hander certainly did his part. Bouncing back from one of his worst outings of the season Wednesday against Fort Myers Canterbury, Cone tossed six strong innings against Bishop McLaughlin to earn the victory.
“Our team has worked so hard all season,” Cone said. “To be able to do this and to be regional champs for the first time in school history is unbelievable.”
Since its last losing season (13-14) in 2010, Out-of-Door Academy is 195-62-2, including 22-3 this season. But it always has run into a roadblock in the regional tournament.
First-year coach Mike Matthews, an assistant for five seasons, led the Out-of-Door Academy baseball team to its first region title and first State Final 4 appearance in program history.
“Knowing the program we’ve been building up to this point,” Matthews said. “That’s an ode to Coach Orlosky who was here before. He’s done a tremendous job building this program. I knew we were capable of it. We just needed to build the belief system. That’s what we’ve done all year long. They’ve done a tremendous job of growing into winners.”
Of course, there were bumps along the way, and not just in the form of losses to Braden River High, Canterbury and Cape Coral Island Coast. The Thunder were forced to quarantine for a week-and-a-half because of COVID-19 concerns which cost them a shot at playing in the IMG Academy Tournament against some of the top teams in the state.
“It was tough on us not to be able to be out there,” Matthews said.
Their first game back was against Canterbury, a team ODA figured it would face in the playoffs.
“Canterbury beat us pretty good (10-4) that first game back,” Matthews said. “From there we started to put some good games together. We lost a game late in the season but it was a pretty good team. We’ve kept good momentum since.”
And when the Thunder did face the Cougars again in the region semifinals, it was a classic. Trailing 7-4 going into their final at-bat, the Thunder came up with six runs, four on a grand slam by leadoff hitter junior Logan Tribble.
Tyler Colditz not only plays first base but is also the Thunder's main closer. Saturday, he pitched the final inning of the Thunder's 4-1 victory over Bishop McLaughlin in the 2A-3 region final.
Colditz was called upon to get the final seven outs to close it out.
“We’ve been doing well all season,” said Cone, who allowed four runs on three hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning Wednesday against Canterbury. “There were a few games where we had our lows, but we still battled through it. Overall we had our highs and stayed mellow tempered.”
ODA's team mental toughness — built by Orlosky and Matthews — is a by-product of one of the area’s best. Both played at Venice High under head coach Craig Faulkner
Matthews laughed when asked if he learned anything playing for Faulkner. Their first game back was against Canterbury, a team ODA figured it would face in the playoffs.
“Everything,” Matthews said. “Coach Faulkner is such a great mentor and great person.”
In fact, if Matthews has a question about anything baseball-related or high school regulations, he will text Faulkner
“And he’s there for me every single time,” Matthews said. “He’s been a tremendous resource. It’s an ode to him on how we build our program and how we run it.”
Matthews then took what he learned during his five years under Orlosky and stayed the course.
“It was very easy to take over the situation based on him and I having a similar belief, and these guys already bought into that system,” Matthews said.
CLASS 2A STATE BASEBALL SEMIFINAL
WHO: Out-of-Door Academy (22-3) vs. Lake Worth Trinity Christian Academy (17-7-2).
WHEN: Wednesday, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Sports Complex, Fort Myers, spring training home of the Minnesota Twins.
ADMISSION: $9 per day if purchased in advance, and $12 if purchased day of game. All tickets available via GoFan.
PARKING: $10 for cars/$50 for buses (cash only).