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TAMPA — In little more than a decade at Alonso, Landy Faedo gradually built one of Hillsborough County’s powerhouse baseball programs.
Faedo has guided the Ravens to two Class 6A state championships, four state tournament berths and five region playoff appearances over 12 years. That resume has grown only more impressive in recent years: Alonso went 125-22 from 2007 to 2011 before ending a four-year playoff streak last season.
Expectations are, accordingly and unsurprisingly, annually high for Faedo and the Ravens.
But sitting in the dugout after a two-run shutout loss to Durant on Tuesday, Faedo briefly considered the challenge that awaits his team this spring.
“If you can get into the playoffs, you’ve got a shot,” he said. “But there are no gimmes. It’s going to be tough.”
Faedo and Alonso hope to emerge from one of the toughest districts in the state, a six-team gauntlet including Bloomingdale, Durant, Newsome, Plant and Wharton that offers no certainties but low-scoring pitching duels.
Through nine games between the District 8A-7 foes, not one has been decided by more than three runs and four were won by a single run.
The early beneficiary has been Durant, 3-0 in district play after beating Plant (3-0), Bloomingdale (3-2) and Alonso (2-0). Two of those victories came courtesy of Florida commit and likely major-league draftee Tyler Danish, who pitched one-hitters against Plant and Alonso.
“Everyone is a contender in this district,” Durant coach Butch Valdes said. “This is D-I for high school. It’s, by far, the toughest district in the state.”
Coaches said the strength of the district is in its arms, led by Danish and a several other college prospects including Alonso’s Cody Beckman (North Carolina State), Bloomingdale’s Cody Crouse (Florida International) and Plant’s John Suskauer (North Florida), among others.
The consensus seems to be, however, that Danish has the arm teams most want to avoid in the district tournament.
“All of us would probably like to stay away from Danish,” Plant coach Dennis Braun said. “But every team has at least one D-I arm. At the end of the day, we’re all going to have to beat somebody good.”
In a sign of the league’s depth, the top teams in 8A-7 from last season — Wharton and Bloomingdale — are winless through their first three district games. Newsome, which finished last with a 2-8 record last year, is tied for second with Plant and Alonso after winning two of its first three.
Of course, the current standings will likely mean little come late April when it's time for the district tournament.
Bloomingdale learned this the hard way in 2012, failing to make the playoffs despite entering as the top seed with an 8-2 record.
Instead, Wharton and Durant represented 8A-7 in the regionals.
How did it happen? The Bulls had the misfortune to face Danish in the semifinals, succumbing 2-0 as the 6-foot-1 right-hander gave up only three hits and struck out seven over seven innings.
“It’s nice to have him out there,” Valdes said.
Records through Wednesday
1. Jesuit (5-0): Through five games, the Tigers have lived up to their billing as the area’s top team and one of the best in the nation — MaxPreps ranks them No. 3 while USA Today has them No. 4. Jesuit has won by an overall score of 66-2, sweating out only a 2-1 victory over Miami Gulliver Prep on Saturday. With seven Division-I signees in its lineup, Jesuit has one of the more loaded teams in recent bay area history.
2. Durant (5-0): If the Cougars’ hitters ever catch up with their pitching and defense, they could be a juggernaut. They are the early favorites and only undefeated team in brutal District 8A-7, having knocked off Plant, Alonso and Bloomingdale. Florida commit and likely high MLB draft pick Tyler Danish is the pitcher teams least want to face in a one-game playoff.
3. Steinbrenner (6-0): The Warriors have been seriously challenged only in their season opener, a 2-1 victory over King. But most impressive, they overcame an early three-run deficit at Alonso and rallied for an 8-3 victory. The program’s first four-year senior class will look to make amends for its surprising loss in the district semifinals last spring.
4. Plant (5-1): A complete-game shutout by Durant ace Danish is all that stands between the Panthers and an undefeated record. The Panthers have their own strong arm in North Florida commit John Suskauer and a dangerous offense led by Florida signee Pete Alonso and Florida commit Kyle Tucker, a sophomore.
5. Alonso (5-2): Hoping to rebound from a season when they missed the playoffs, the Ravens have dropped early games to district rivals Durant and Plant. But they return all but two graduated seniors, have strong arms in North Carolina State commit Cody Beckman and junior Alex Faedo, and should make strides on offense over the course of the season.
6. Brandon (5-1): It might be too much to expect another run to the Class 7A championship game for the Eagles, but they’re off to a good start. They boast impressive wins over Newsome, Bloomingdale and Plant City, and 6-foot freshman lefty Antonio Velez has the look of an ace in early appearances (12 innings, 10 strikeouts, three hits, one run).
7. Tampa Catholic (5-1): Hard to overlook that 14-0 loss to Jesuit on Feb. 16, but the Crusaders have won big and even eked out a pair of one-run wins. Juniors Sam Nelson (.583) and Paulie Russo (.474) are the leaders of a strong offense, but the pitching needs a little work after losing three seniors from last year’s team.
In the conversation: Newsome (5-2), King (3-1), Sickles (3-2).
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Jdhometeam.