TAMPA — For the second time in his young career, Berkeley Prep baseball coach Richie Warren stared at his players during an afternoon practice, trying to come up with the right words in a time of grave disappointment.
Just the day before, in a 4-3 victory against Clearwater Central Catholic, star pitcher and outfielder Julian Bosnic suffered a season-ending ankle injury, one that promised to leave a gaping hole in the Bucs' lineup.
"It's hard to replace him. I don't think you replace Julian Bosnic," Warren said. "But I told the guys in the practice after, much like in the other situation, the goals don't change. And if they change, why are we here?"
That day, Warren, 34, went around to each player, asking each one if he still believed a state championship — Berkeley Prep's second in school history and first since 1976 — was still possible. All of them responded with a resolute "Yes."
Perhaps three years ago, winning it all after the loss of a star player might have seemed like an impossible feat to Warren, a 2000 Jesuit High alumnus who served as the head coach for the program — one of the most decorated in the Tampa Bay area — for eight seasons.
But if there's anything his final campaign with the Tigers taught him, it's the value of never giving up. So on that April morning, that's exactly what he tried to relay to his Bucs (19-7).
"Don't try and change anything that you're doing, but maybe try and look inside yourself and just see if there's one little thing you can do better," he told them. "I said, 'Inherently, if you know you can get better as an individual, we can get better as team. And that's how we're going to overcome this.' "
And that's something Warren knows from first-hand experience.
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Even before his against-all-odds 2014 state title run at Jesuit, Warren knew a thing or two about getting to high school baseball's biggest stage. On May 18, 2000, Warren retired 15 consecutive batters during a state semifinal against Royal Palm Beach, eventually leading the Tigers to a 2-1 victory and state championship berth.
The next day, Jesuit defeated Bishop Kenny, then the No. 2 team in the nation, to take home its third state baseball title.
"He was a tremendously great young man, all the way through his four years of high school," said former Jesuit coach John Crumbley, now the head baseball coach at Steinbrenner. "It was kind of a fitting way for someone who was such an outstanding person to be able to get his team to the finals."
It was an improbable win for the Tigers, who had 13 losses that season, just four seniors and a .261 batting average.
Fourteen years later, Warren, coaching his alma mater, was faced with a scenario perhaps even more improbable.
In March 2013, immediately following a spring break road trip to Pensacola and New Orleans, nine Jesuit players — five of whom were Division I-A prospects — were suspended the remainder of the season for violating school policy.
"That day in March was probably one of the darkest days in my young life," Warren said. "It was something that I never thought I would have to experience."
With a depleted roster now full of JV call-ups, the Tigers were all but counted out. But borrowing from his experience on Jesuit's last state championship squad, Warren wouldn't let them play that way.
The Tigers won their first five games following the suspensions. And in the postseason, the Tigers kept winning, all the way to a 5-2 Class 5A state championship victory against Clay.
Five days later, Warren was announced as the next head baseball coach at Berkeley Prep.
"It was hard, because you felt like at that point, you were letting them down," Warren said of leaving his alma mater. "They put all this trust in you, and here you were telling them you were moving on, after they just gave you everything to win the most important game of their lives."
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Warren admits that until his final season with the Tigers, he thought he'd stay at Jesuit forever. But two years later, as he sits in his office dressed from head to toe in Berkeley Prep blue, the second-year Bucs coach already feels at home.
"He's a man of integrity, and that's what we look for in all Berkeley students, all Berkeley faculty, all Berkeley coaches," athletic director Bobby Reinhart said. "He's just a fine man … and somebody I think kids really want to play for and want to work hard for and leave it on the field for."
That much is evident in the way the Bucs have played since Bosnic — who was hitting .500 with an 0.95 ERA — left the field for the last time this season.
Berkeley Prep won four straight games following the injury, and it lost close games to Class 6A Hillsborough and 8A Steinbrenner this week, it's final regular-season matchups before next week's district tournament begins.
"It broke all our hearts. He's not only probably our best player, but he's just a great friend to all of us," shortstop Spencer Myers said of Bosnic's absence. "But we've got to move on from it, and other guys have to step up."
After those dark days two years ago, Warren considers himself a new and improved coach. Warren doesn't take for granted his job of leading young men, he said, and he now pauses to appreciate the unique role he has, often sending handwritten notes to his players after strong performances on the field.
And these days, he doesn't overlook any possibility.
"Sometimes they might get overlooked because we don't carry the tradition as some other schools, but I think they're starting to make a name for themselves, which in turn, I think, will put Berkeley on the map locally," Warren said. "And maybe down the road.
"Who knows, right?"
Contact Kelly Parsons at email@example.com. Follow @_kellyparsons.