Springstead’s Lantigua inks with D-I UMass Lowell River Hawks

BOUND FOR LOWELL – Recent Springstead High graduate Jiovel Lantigua signed a Division-I national letter-of-intent to play baseball beginning this fall for the University of Massachusetts at Lowell River Hawks. Attending the signing ceremony included first row (left to right) his sister Naobi and girl friend Hailee Warren. Back row includes his father Robin, mother Ruth and brother Josh Lantiqua.                                                                                                                                                                       Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

BASEBALL

Eagle first sacker wins

county Triple Crown in

batting, homers, RBI

By TONY CASTRO

HernandoSport.com

Time, it’s been said, heals all.

It couldn’t be truer than with the swing of Spring Hill’s Jiovel Lantigua.

Jiovel Lantigua concentrates on connecting during game with Citrus High.Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

In three short varsity baseball seasons at F.W. Springstead High School, the stocky, 6-foot, 235-pounder has transformed his game.

As a freshman, he joined the baseball team under skipper Shawn Laferty.

Laferty, who is not a huge fan of starting 14-15-year-olds at the varsity level, allowed him and fellow freshman Jack Jasiak to play junior varsity baseball.

In Laferty’s eyes, there was no need to rush youngsters up – see them invariably struggle – and not play them.

Each completed their JV campaigns in 2016 before being promoted to the varsity program in 2017.

The Eagles – have since – reaped the benefits.

Lantigua broke as a backup outfielder and first sacker, who could see time at designated hitter.

The raven-tressed and brown-eyed Lantigua, who bats left-handed, hit .312 for the 15-1 Eagles JV team, highlighted by four homers.

As expected, the Dominican Republic native, didn’t set the world on fire in Year 1 at the varsity level. But who does?

In 2017, Lantigua played in 10 games, attempting 15 at-bats. He collected three hits with zero homers and two runs batted in.

In the off-season, he steadfastly concentrated on correcting his mechanical flaws – particularly with his swing.

In 2018, the Tampa-born Lantigua came out of his shell.

Across 29 games, Lantigua totaled 23 hits. He shortened his swing to “barrel the ball up more”.

He walked away with four homers and 23 runs batted in and was named All-Hernando County for the first time.

His productivity helped the Eagles reach its third straight district final under Coach Laferty – something that had never been done in 42 seasons in Spring Hill.

Mario Mendoza

Despite elevating his average from the (Mario) Mendoza line – .200 – to .303, he was just getting heated up.

In a subtle improvement, he was also walked a team-high 28 times.

By seeing more pitches, his on-base percentage escalated to .500 while his slugging percentage climbed to .561.

In 2019, Lantigua pieced together one of the finest-ever seasons in Hernando County batting history.

In Year 3, he blossomed.

Jiovel Lantigua rounds third base after second homer against Dunnellon. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

In the league opener, Lantigua’s first hit of the season – a towering two-run skyscraper at “The Swamp” at Land O’ Lakes High School, decided the Eagles’ 3-1 nod over Gators.

For many of the fans who attended that game swear that his particular shot never came down. Or if it did, it landed somewhere near the Collier Parkway.

In a season to behold, the slugger hit safely in 20 games, including a career-high eight games in a row.

He amassed a personal record 35 safeties in 27 games.

He ended up winning the local batting title with a .412 batting.

That wasn’t all.

He finished third in the circuit in at-bats (85).

He accumulated a league-best 35 knocks, edging teammate Jasiak by one hit.

Jack Jasiak

Lantigua paced the local circuit in extra-base hits (20), homeruns (13), runs batted in (44), on-base (.528) and slugging percentage (.953).

Rick Graves

His 13 bombs tied the Springstead school record set in 1984 – or 35 years ago – by two-time All-Gulf Coast Athletic Conference selection Rick Graves.

Winning the Triple Crown – batting average, homers and RBI – pushed his consideration to Player of the Year status.

Jasiak, who hit .378, and led the county in almost every pitching category, edged Lantigua for POY laurels, 3-2.

While Jasiak inked a D-I scholarship with the University of South Florida Bulls in Tampa, Lantigua did the same signing D-I with the University of Massachusetts Lowell River Hawks.

The Eagle duo served as the two main pillars in Springstead’s fourth 20-win season in five years fourth straight district title game and third district championship all under Laferty, in four seasons.

Jiovel Lantigua watches second homer against Dunnellon. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Lantigua 101

Tracing his athletic roots, Jiovel was born the middle of three children to Robin and Ruth Lantigua in Hillsborough County.

Robin and Ruth were both raised in the Dominican Republic.

The family relocated to Spring Hill nearly 17 years ago.

Jiovel was practically raised on beisbol.

At 5 years old, he played T-Ball for the local West Hernando Little League off Deltona Blvd.

He alternated between first base and pitcher for the next six seasons.

He did play one season recreational soccer at Veterans’ Memorial Park before joining his first travel ball team – St. Pete Storm – during fifth grade. He played for the Storm for two seasons before he it disbanded.

Though he attended Challenger K=8, Lantigua never played any sports of the Navigators during sixth-, seventh- or eighth-grade.

After school, he typically went straight to travel ball practice for years.

Once, he matriculated at Springstead, he joined the baseball team and played the next four years.

Though he was not a member of any clubs or organizations on the Mariner Boulevard campus, Lantigua was a whiz in the classroom as well.

He maintained a 3.8 unweighted and 4.05 unweighted grade point average.

His favorite courses included Mrs. Edwards’ science class and Jay McNerney’s US History.

Passion for beisbol

Lantigua, 18, is passionate about baseball.

Jiovel Lantigua

“My favorite team sport is baseball. My favorite individual sport in Formula 1 racing,” noted Lantigua, whose English is perfect.

“I’m kinda a laid back guy, but I’ll take my chances for extra-bases in baseball,” he said. “As a hitter, my responsibilities are to move runners along. If I get on, the next guy has got to get me in.”

On his mindset prior to 176 prep at-bats, “As I got older, I just wanted to hit the ball on the barrel. I use a 33” 30-ounce bat.

“My father was my biggest inspiration. He wasn’t a great player. But he studied the game really well. Almost like a manager would,” explained Lantigua. “All he wanted to do was pass his knowledge to help improve my game.”

Lantigua, who writes left-handed, was more comfortable hitting right-handed when he was younger.

One day, he chose to switch hit and did that for a couple travel ball seasons.

Eventually he stuck to hitting from the left-side.

“It just seemed like I had more power hitting lefty,” noted Lantigua. “That was my comfort zone, so I’ve stayed with it.”

Triple Crown threat

On how Lantigua went from Mario Mendoza numbers to Mike Trout stats, “I really didn’t play attention to my stats. To me, on-base percentage is huge. That helps a team. I’m looking for particular pitches from certain guys. My job was to drive in runs.

“It just seemed like it came natural. Once guys got on, I’m trying to get ’em home.”

On why the SHS’ offense was so successful, “It just seemed like we always got guys to get hits at the right time,” shared Jiovel.

Jiovel LantiguaPhoto by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

On which games stood out during his prep career – almost all during his senior year.

“The walk-off (homer) against Sunlake really stands out. A lot of the guys were saying they called that shot. It felt great to get a pitch to drive and hit it out,” he recalled.

“…Playing Dunnellon at home the first time this year was bittersweet. The last time we played over there, I remember striking out three times,” noted Lantigua. “I was definitely mentally and physically ready when they came here.”

On April 5, Lantigua tied a Hernando County single game record with three homers in a 13-3 rout over the Tigers.

The last round-tripper was a walk-off to end the game via the 10-run mercy rule.

Jiovel Lantigua

“Of the three, the last homer stood out because it ended the game,” shared Lantigua.

When the curtains came down following his final high school game – a 4-1 loss to North Marion in Spring Hill – he explained, “It would’ve been worse only if I’d never set foot on a baseball field again,” noted Lantigua. “That loss hurt, but I’m fortunate that I’ll continue to play the game I love. It was just closing one chapter of my life and opening up another.”

On what Lantigua will miss most, “I’ll miss the chemistry we had with this team.

“… Some teams have good individuals, but didn’t have chemistry we had as a team – that’s why we were so successful. We found ways to get it done as a team – not individuals.”

Lantigua credited his fellow seniors, “All of us had the same objective: to go as far as we can. Everyone was focused on that.”

Selecting the River Hawks

Lantigua plans on studying financial management.

Lantigua visited one school prior to inking with the Hawks.

“When I visited the school, it felt homey,” shared Lantigua. “The guys on the team made me feel great; like I was a part of their team already. It was the same vibe I had from our dugout in Springstead. To me, chemistry is huge.”

Lowell serves as the Single A affiliate home of the Boston Red Sox.

The grass field juts out to 315 down the line and 400 to straight away center field.

“The facilities there were great,” explained Lantigua. “The weather? I’ll have to overcome.”

On leaving home for the first time, “It won’t be easy,” declared Lantigua. “But it’s all good. It’s all for the purpose of getting better.”

On what is the only thing that could keep him from success at the next level, “Oh, it’s myself,“ replied Lantigua. “I know I have all the tools in front of me to succeed. There’s no reason I can’t make it at Lowell.”

Jiovel reports to school for the first day of classes on Aug. 31.

Between now and then he’s playing in West Palm Beach until July 20 in the Boca Raton South Florida Collegiate Baseball League.

Basically, he says, he’s playing a game a day for the for the next month. Play began on May 31.

When he returns home for a month, he’ll go back to his old routine of attending the Strong 8 in St. Petersburg – which is a power lifting gym especially built for baseball players in Pinellas County. He’ll commute there and back four days a week.

Card of thanks

Before journeying to Lowell, Lantigua took a moment to thank some folks.

He wanted to personally thank “my parents for making the financial sacrifices they’ve done to provide this opportunity for me,” shared Lantigua.

“I have to also thank Steve Schwarz from Stance Doctor for working with me all these years.

“… Josh Morris of Strong 8 was my performance coach. He’s the one that’s kept me in shape.

“… And I have to thank Mr. Jasiak. Jack’s father, Joe, allowed Jack and I find each other and play long toss. The Jasiak’s really helped me. I owe them.”

Before turning to next chapter in his life, “I’m gonna miss Springstead. I’d just like to be remembered as a good teammate and a good friend. That’s what really matters,” shared Lantigua.

By the Numbers:

Springstead’s Jiovel Lantigua (2017-19)

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

Jiovel Lantigua
 

YEAR

 

GP

 

AB

 

R

 

H

 

2B

 

3B

 

HR

 

RBI

 

.AVG

2017

10

15

1

3

0

0

0

2

.200

2018

29

76

22

23

3

0

4

23

.303

2019

27

85

32

35

7

0

12

44

.412

 

TOT

 

66176

 

176

 

55

 

61

 

10

 

0

 

16

 

69

 

.347

 

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