FPC's longtime coach resigns, and the Pirates look to build off a season that was hampered by inexperience.
Bulldogs coach steps down after nine seasons
Flagler Palm Coast baseball coach Jordan Butler had high expectations entering his ninth season with the team. They returned experienced players and leaders, and the Bulldogs had a shot at a district championship.
But just before the start of the 2019 regular season, junior pitcher Riley Clymer had Tommy John surgery. He was out for the year.
And one day, while working on his hitting during batting practice, senior Charlie Alfano felt soreness in his right hand — his throwing hand. He was diagnosed with a bone bruise. One of the Bulldogs’ fastest, grittiest players was held out for a large portion of the year and didn’t make an appearance until midway through the season.
As a result, the Bulldogs got off to a rocky start, losing nine of their first 12 games.
“He was our glue guy. When he was on the field, everybody else played better,” Butler said of Alfano. “It was a struggle without him.”
After a 6-1 win over rival Matanzas on March 22, the Bulldogs started a slow climb up the win column. Things picked up when Alfano returned prior to spring break. The Bulldogs beat Seabreeze, Taylor, Bartram Trail, DeLand and Oviedo.
“The team chemistry wasn’t really there at the beginning,” senior shortstop D’Emiliano Whiters said. “But we got to know each other more. We progressed more as a team at the end of the season.”
Then came the Spruce Creek game on April 24, a game that was neck-and-neck for the first three innings — until Alfano re-injured his hand, and the Bulldogs lost 11-1.
FPC concluded the season with an early exit in the district tournament and a 10-16 record.
In addition, Butler, who has coached since 2004 and who has been at FPC since 2011, stepped down as the team’s head coach.
He accepted an offer to be the director of the Flagler Youth Center and the George Washington Carver Community Center in January. He knew this season was going to be his last with the Bulldogs.
“The night that I told them I was resigning, I couldn’t even get through it. I was a glass case of emotion,” he said. “I love these kids. I love the program, and it’s really hard to walk away from. But at the end of the day, I had to make that decision.”
He added: “It feels like yesterday is the first time I stepped on this campus. This community has been very good to me and my family.”
Six players on the roster began and ended their high school careers under Butler.
“It was a pleasure for me. He was there for me all the time,” centerfielder Jace Wilson said. “It being his last ride and my last ride, it just felt a little more special.”
Pirates will return experience next season
When Matanzas’ baseball team took to the field in 2019, there was a lot more youth than in seasons past. Senior Jason Guilbe, junior Joseph Alvarado and junior Will Towles were the Pirates’ only returning starters from last season, according to Pirates head coach James Perry.
The Pirates’ No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 hitters from a season ago are all on college rosters now. Guys lower in the batting order last season were suddenly thrust into the top of the order and were put into pressure situations.
The Pirates struggled as a result.
“Part of the growing process was learning how to fill those rolls,” Perry said. “It created some growing pains for us.”
Will Towles, who batted in the No. 8 and No. 9 spots last year, was predominantly the team’s 3-hole hitter this season.
“We were seeing more at-bats, more off-speed pitches, more competitive pitches overall, so we had to adjust to that,” he said.
Although the Pirates finished the season with a 9-15 record, they won five of their last eight games, including a 14-2 win over Seabreeze in the first round of the district tournament on May 6. It was the Pirates’ first tournament win in three years.
“Now some of those younger guys have experience,” Perry said. “Now they can take on more of a leadership role on and off the field.”