Featured Future is a summer series where the Observer will highlight local student athletes who are preparing to continue their athletic and educational careers at the college level, or those who have already begun that journey.
Strawberry Crest’s Ethan Pues played four years for the Chargers, culminating in a commitment to continue his athletic and educational career at Pasco-Hernando State College this coming year.
As a freshman, Pues played on the Chargers’ junior varsity team, needing to grow and add size before he moved up to the varsity level. And as a sophomore, his year was cut short due to COVID-19 as he totaled just six plate appearances over the Chargers’ eight games. By his junior season, with very little varsity experience, Pues made his way into the starting lineup and became an offensive staple for the Chargers, hitting .315 and finishing the year with the team’s third-most hits with 23, the team’s third most runs batted in with 18, the team’s second-most doubles with six and tied for the team lead with two triples.
Following the 2021 season and heading into a crucial summer before his senior year, Pues hit a roadblock as he suffered a stress fracture in his elbow, causing him to miss most of the summer and fall seasons. Undeterred, he took advantage of the time off of the field to try and fill out his frame in the weight room, getting up to around 200 pounds before his final season of high school ball.
As a senior, Pues’ production took a huge leap. Leading Crest in nearly every category, he finished the 2022 season with a team-high .349 batting average, 29 hits, 26 runs batted in, nine doubles and five home runs. He also finished second on the team with 22 runs scored and tied for third with 10 stolen bases.
“I put on probably 30 pounds, got up to about 200 pounds and really saw the results,” Pues said. “I hit a couple of home runs, a lot more power, a lot faster… My junior year my approach was completely different too. I wasn’t as good at picking up on offspeed pitches, I was kind of going up there and swinging at whatever, swinging hard. Going into my senior year I realized that I didn’t have to swing as hard and I can utilize my strength, just putting the ball in play, trying to make hard contact, I’m seeing more curveballs out of the hand, I’m getting better at picking up little things like pitchers tipping their pitches, things like that. Just being more mature mentally and not trying to do too much all the time, the result is better contact, plus, as you get stronger you naturally hit the ball further.”
With four consecutive district titles for Strawberry Crest – most recently coming by way of a walkoff victory over rival Bloomingdale in 2022 – Pues is among a select group that finished their high school career without ever failing to win their district championship.
“It was just really fun,” Pues said. “We all knew that we had something special because we always knew that we had a shot at trying to make it to a state title. Then, it’s great winning districts because you’ve got the dog pile, you’re playing your rival in Plant City or Bloomingdale and getting the win in that district championship is something special, it’s not something that everybody gets to experience. We had a good bond and we played well as a team and it was a good run.”
Due to the elbow injury, Pues says that his recruitment process began a little late and that he knew his senior season would be a crucial window toward earning a chance to play at the next level. While he spoke with a number of schools ranging from local junior colleges to out-of-state junior colleges and Division II schools, Pues ultimately decided that Pasco-Hernando State College was the best fit for him moving forward.
“I had a decent amount of schools, some out-of-state JUCOs, some out-of-state Division II schools, a couple of local JUCOs around here,” Pues said. “But I went and actually practiced with Pasco and had a good time. The coach was really invested in me and I’m going there on a baseball scholarship so I feel like that was my best choice in order to develop as much as I can as a player.”
PHSC is a Division II program in New Port Richey. Since making the move to DII in 2010, their baseball team has appeared in the NJCAA Region 10 District Tournament in North Carolina seven times, winning the Region in 2014 and ultimately advancing to the World Series where they finished fourth nationally. In 2022, the Bobcats finished the regular season 37-15 and played host to the NJCAA DII Region 8 tournament where they advanced to the championship game before falling to Florida State College of Jacksonville.