Prep baseball: Plenty at stake in Hillsborough-King game
The high school baseball regular season wraps up today, with most games being little more than tune-ups for next week's district tournaments. So it would be easy to say many of tonight's games aren't that crucial.
Don't tell Kenny White or his Hillsborough Terriers that. White looks at tonight's game at King as just a “right place, right team” competition for the Terriers, who will be the No. 2 seed in the Class 7A-District 8 tournament next week.
Hillsborough (17-5) has won eight straight games and prior to that dropped back-to-back games to Durant and Brandon due to one bad inning in each game.
“If you take those two losses away, we had won eight straight prior to that,” White said. “We give up four to Durant and 10 in the final inning to Brandon – if you take away two bad innings of baseball we are on the best run in the county.”
Tonight's test comes against another district top seed in 6A-11 King (19-3). The Lions are looking to finish the regular season by joining Jesuit and Steinbrenner as the county's only 20-win teams.
King, winner of 10 straight, has been on a tear lately as senior pitchers Brett Morales (7-1) and Brandon Caples (7-0) have been turning in lockdown performances, and the Lions' defense and hitting have backed them up nicely.
Seniors Tanner Williams and Devon Pedro spark the defense up the middle but are also run-producing machines as Pedro has scored 25 runs, while Williams has added 23.
For the Terriers hitters, junior Diamond Johnson's batting average may be down a little from the .403 he posted last season, but at .328, he's still pacing the offense with 25 runs, 16 RBIs, three doubles, four triples and 21 stolen bases.
“I told Diamond after his monster year last year, it would be hard to duplicate again,” White said. “But every time he goes out there he surprises us. We go as he goes, and he's been outstanding and everything has happened off of him.”
The Terriers have also gotten a solid year from Chris Figueredo, who went from a .176 average a season ago batting eighth to batting second this season and hitting .344 with 14 runs and 14 RBIs.
Figueredo has also been partnering with staff ace Dylan Moore (5-3, 1.43 ERA), as the junior is 5-1 with a 2.15 ERA this season.
Danish finishes with perfect ERA Durant's Tyler Danish only threw three innings to earn a win (his ninth of the season) against East Bay on Tuesday, but what seemed a breeze for the Cougars senior ace wasn't just one more win.
Leaving with a 3-0 lead, Danish's relief wrapped up the 7-1 win over the Indians.
For Danish however, it marked a personal best in a season full of bright spots as he finished the regular season with a 0.00 ERA.
Danish (9-1) tossed 57 innings since the regular season started Feb. 11, striking out 97 and allowing just nine walks.
Power surge for Plant High duo Plant coach Dennis Braun is no stranger to hefty bats carrying the load for his Panthers offense.
In 2007, Preston Tucker (.456, nine home runs), Jared Womack (.514, five HRs) and Matt Lashbrook (.352, four HRs) powered the Panthers to the region semifinals. This year, however, it has been another Tucker, Preston's younger brother Kyle (a sophomore) and senior third baseman Pete Alonso powering the Panthers offense.
Tucker is hitting .531 with 28 runs scored, 23 RBIs and eight home runs (tied for the state lead), and Alonso is close behind with seven home runs while hitting .400 with 23 runs scored and 22 RBIs.
“We have had some great hitters here like in '07 with Kyle's brother Preston and Womack and Lashbrook,” Braun said. “But to have a lefty (Tucker) and a righty (Alonso) is something special, and there is no doubt in my mind we have the two best hitters in our county.”
Top performers Devon Pedro, SS, King – Pedro had a career night in King's 34-2 win against Middleton last week, going 4-for-4 with a double, grand slam, seven RBIs and four runs scored.
Luis Medina, C/3B, Tampa Prep – The freshman is 4-for-6 in Tampa Prep's past two wins with a double, two home runs, six RBIs and two runs scored. He leads the team with eight doubles and is tied for the RBI lead with 19.
Wilbert Malpus, RF, Hillsborough – The senior is batting .364 with 16 runs scored and 10 RBIs. He hit his first home run of the season in Tuesday's victory against Blake.
Hunter Henderson, P, Gaither – The senior has a 0.69 ERA in seven starts, striking out 37. In a win against Leto last week he struck out six and added a two-run double.
Top 5 Teams (Prior to Thursday's games)
1. Jesuit (22-1) – The Tigers fell in extra innings to Seminole last Saturday, losing for the first time this season – but this doesn't drop them in our list and could be the wake-up call for a team looking to capture a state gold medal.
2. Steinbrenner (20-1) – The Warriors cruised with big wins against Tampa Bay Tech and Middleton to win 20 games in the regular season for the first time in school history.
3. King (19-3) – The Lions have 10 straight wins and head into the playoffs looking to defend the district crown.
4. Durant (18-5) – The Cougars have wins against Armwood and East Bay in the last week, and with Danish at the top of the rotation will have to contend with the Plant-Bloomingdale winner in the district semifinals.
5. Brandon (17-6) – With wins against Lennard and Jefferson, the Eagles' regular season is finished. Brandon looks to defend its district title with a big eye on the only team to beat them in district play this year – Hillsborough.
On the bubble: Hillsborough (17-5); Plant (15-6); Newsome (16-6); Tampa Prep (16-8); Alonso (13-8).