Baseball: District tournament preview
8A-7 at Bloomingdale
SCHEDULE: Monday: Wharton (6) vs. Newsome (3), 4 p.m.; Bloomingdale (5) vs. Plant (4), 7 p.m. Tuesday: Newsome-Wharton winner vs. Alonso (2), 4 p.m.; Plant-Bloomingdale winner vs. Durant (1), 7 p.m. Thursday: Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
OUTLOOK: Here’s how dangerous this district is — the No.?6 seed Wharton is the defending district champion, fared OK this season at 10-13, but went 0-10 against this field. Top seed Durant is led by ace Tyler Danish, who finished the regular season with a 0.00 ERA and will be tasked with getting the Cougars into the district final by facing the winner of Plant and Bloomingdale. The Bulls have a solid group of seniors, including hitters Jamal Wilson and Justin Ambrosino and pitcher Cody Crouse. They looked good at midseason, taking the Saladino Tournament title before some erratic play late in the season. The Panthers have good pitching, but in the post-BBCOR bat era they are one of a handful of teams that have been mashing like teams of old. Led by senior third baseman Pete Alonso (.384, 24 runs, 22 RBIs and seven home runs) and the explosive bat of sophomore Kyle Tucker (.558, 29 runs, 26 RBIs and nine home runs), the Panthers twice topped Bloomingdale in the regular season. Newsome also had an up-and-down run but is likely to make it through Wharton to face Alonso. The Wolves twice beat Durant, including an 8-1 win and — led by talented senior Ryan Tauscher — a 1-0 win over Danish and Durant three weeks ago. But Newsome stumbled around that win with losses to Plant and Alonso. The Ravens topped Newsome in close games twice this season behind a balanced offense and a clear ace in Alex Faedo. The Ravens lost twice to Durant and split the season series with Plant.
7A-8 at Riverview SCHEDULE: Monday: East Bay (6) vs. Plant City (3), 4 p.m.; Tampa Bay Tech (5) vs. Riverview (4), 7 p.m. Tuesday: Plant City-East Bay winner vs. Hillsborough (2), 4 p.m.; Riverview-TBT winner vs. Brandon (1), 7 p.m. Thursday: Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
OUTLOOK: Brandon looks to defend its district championship. The Eagles were 9-1 against district foes, just as they were a season ago when they reached the state finals. Brandon has talented pitching with depth in senior Eric Hinostroza, junior Ryan Anderson (who each threw no-hitters this year) and freshman Antonio Velez, teamed with good hitting and talented defense. The likely semifinal match between Brandon and Riverview will be a rematch of last season’s district final. On the other side Hillsborough was hot throughout the season, splitting the regular season meetings with Brandon and potential semifinal opponent Plant City. The Terriers will look to shake off a disappointing 15-5 loss to King, and with talented leadoff man Diamond Johnson (.328, 25 runs, 16 RBIs) and solid pitching, Hillsborough’s No. 2 seed and first-round bye has the team in good shape. Plant City had a strange final two games, looking flat in a 14-4 loss to Newsome only to end the year with an impressive 4-3 win over Plant. The Raiders are getting a little bit of everything from senior Kevin Long, who leads the team on the mound with a 5-3 record and also paces the offense, hitting .411.
7A-9 at Gaither SCHEDULE: Monday: Freedom (5) vs. Chamberlain (4), 7 p.m. Tuesday: Wiregrass Ranch (3) vs. Gaither (2), 4 p.m.; Chamberlain-Freedom winner vs. Steinbrenner (1), 7 p.m. Thursday: Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
OUTLOOK: The good news for the winner of the Chamberlain-Freedom game is a young team will get some playoff experience. The bad news is that team will have to face Steinbrenner (22-2) coming off of a televised 11-0 loss to Jefferson. The Warriors have power and pitching with Gideon Dunn (8-0) and Logan LaPace (6-2) leading from the mound and an offense with 10 guys in double-digit scoring and nine with double-digit RBI totals led by junior Cole Gordon (.418, 26 runs, 31 RBI and seven home runs). The other semifinal is an interesting one as Gaither and Wiregrass Ranch split in the regular season with each team winning a 4-3 game. The Cowboys have balance at the plate and excellent defense keyed by senior shortstop Oscar Mercado, while Wiregrass Ranch has brother’s Zach and Austin Drury leading the offense. Zach Drury, a junior, has had to handle all the Bulls’ toughest challenges on the mound, sporting just a 6-5 record but an impressive 1.90 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 48 innings.
6A-11 at Leto SCHEDULE: Monday: Armwood (6) vs. Strawberry Crest (3), 5 p.m.; Sickles (5) vs. Jefferson (4), 7 p.m. Tuesday: Jefferson-Sickles winner vs. King (1), 5 p.m.; Strawberry Crest-Armwood winner vs. Leto (2), 7 p.m. Thursday: Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
OUTLOOK: King (20-3) wrapped its first 20-win regular season with Friday’s 15-5 win against Hillsborough as this year’s Lions continue to make a name for themselves. King finished undefeated in district play and is looking to return this year’s group of seniors to the state region series for the fourth time. The Lions have two solid pitchers in power righty Brett Morales (7-1) and a spot pitching machine in Brandon Caples (8-0). The top of the lineup features a trio of players — Devon Pedro, Sam Rowe and Tanner Williams — who have legitimate shots at finishing the season above the .400 mark. The rest of the district has battled all year long, and there is plenty of talent to disrupt King’s plans. No. 2 seed Leto has a solid ace in Jose Pupo and homefield advantage on its side. The opening game shouldn’t be much trouble for Strawberry Crest as the young Chargers have bought in all season for coach Eric Beattie. The Chargers are speedy and aggressive on the basepaths, but they will need to find consistency on the mound to sustain in tournament play. The other semifinal features a Sickles team that underachieved at 8-14 despite the solid effort of sophomore Troy Bacon (.389, 11 runs, 15 RBIs and 10 stolen bases). The Gryphons will need to have a pitcher step up to contend with a tough Jefferson team. The Dragons finished strong with a win over Steinbrenner on Thursday, but at times this season they have struggled to string together wins. However, the one thing Jefferson does well is play in a tournament setting, again reaching the Saladino Tournament final. The Dragons have solid pitchers including Nelson Maldonado and Jonathon Diaz and junior shortstop Jose Cuellar is a vacuum in the middle of the infield.
5A-11 at Spoto SCHEDULE: Monday: Middleton (6) vs. Blake (3), 4 p.m.; Spoto (5) vs. Lennard (4), 7:30 p.m. Tuesday: Blake-Middleton winner vs. Robinson (2), 4 p.m.; Lennard-Spoto winner vs. Jesuit (1), 7:30 p.m. Thursday: Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
OUTLOOK: This might sound harsh, but it’s a fact: None of these teams will come close to putting Jesuit in any trouble of failing to defend the district title. The closest any of these teams came to beating Jesuit this season was a 5-0 game against Robinson. The Tigers once held the No.?1 spot in the nation before falling in the team’s final two regular season games. That will not sit well with a team full of Division-I signees bent on finally capturing championship gold. Senior Spencer Trayner is hitting .542 and leading the pitching staff with a 6-1 record, while Jesuit has Trayner, Vincent Miniet, Adrian Chacon and Ricky Caldevilla all hitting over .350 with more than 25 runs scored. The Tigers crushed the rest of the field 162-7 and with the bats of … well, everyone … and a pitching staff of aces, the contest for the second region spot is the only thing up for grabs. That spot most likely will go to the aforementioned Knights, who did split with Blake this season, but have a little bit better consistency top to bottom than the Yellow Jackets. The Knights have too much senior talent not to step up in this setting as the offense has been productive behind Bradley Whiteside, Cody Hodgens, Zack Sabo and Jacquari Mattox. Blake for its part did go 9-14 this season after a 2-23 record in 2012.
4A-9 at Berkeley Prep SCHEDULE: Tuesday: Sarasota Booker (3) vs. Berkeley Prep (2), 7 p.m. Thursday: Berkeley-Booker winner vs. Tampa Catholic (1), 7 p.m.
OUTLOOK: The difference here may come down to Berkeley Prep having to use one more pitcher up to get past Booker and face off against Tampa Catholic. The Buccaneers took the early season game and the Crusaders the late with a coin flip deciding the tournament seeding. Both teams have had good and bad moments this year and the tournament but the knock in the Crusaders direction is the late season win over Berkeley and the fact that the Buccaneers have dropped six-straight. The Crusaders have talented bats in Paulie Russo and Dre Leal and a solid No.?1 in Clayton Smith (6-1), while the Buccaneers have some excellent hitters including Bubba Olivera and Chris Erdmier, but don’t have a starter with more than three wins on the season.
3A-8 at Tampa Prep SCHEDULE: Tuesday: Seffner Chr. (5) vs. Carrollwood Day (4), 7 p.m. Thursday: Brooks Debartolo (3) vs. Bishop McLaughlin (2), 4 p.m.; CDS-Seffner winner vs. Tampa Prep (1), 7 p.m. Friday: Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
OUTLOOK: Tampa Prep was a state final four team a season ago and put together a solid 17-8 record this year, including 7-1 in district. The Terrapins’ only loss was to No.?2 seed Bishop McLaughlin. Tampa Prep has been getting great at-bats from a young team including Nick De Tringo, Matt Hodges and Sam Martin, while Martin, senior Michael Sittig and Watson Ransom have been giving the Terrapins solid work on the mound. The semifinal between Bishop McLaughlin and a tough Brooks-DeBartolo team could be the best of the tourney as the Phoenix have a talented pitcher in Shane Jeffcoat and a spark to the offense in Brendan Rivera while the Hurricanes have talented hitters in Colton Nussell and Josh Falk.
2A-8 at Interbay LL SCHEDULE: Tuesday: Tampa Bay Chr. (4) vs. Cambridge Chr. (1), 4 p.m.; Bayshore Chr. (3) vs. Academy at the Lakes (2), 7 p.m. Thursday: semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
OUTLOOK: Cambridge Christian only gave up six total runs against district teams this season and has staggering offensive numbers from seniors Nick Eicholtz, Zach Hessinger and junior Levi Gilcrease. The Lancers should come out on top in the district. Academy at the Lakes, the only team to score on Cambridge Christian this season, should be the opponent in the district final.