ST. PETERSBURG — Another high school baseball season has begun and the usual suspects are the teams to watch. Seminole is especially loaded. East Lake has pitching depth and unlike last season, the Eagles are hitting.
Countryside, Osceola, Clearwater Central Catholic, Tarpon Springs, Calvary Christian, Dunedin and Indian Rocks Christian all look like teams that could go far in the postseason.
Then there is Lakewood.
The Spartans (3-3) have little to no tradition when it comes to baseball. Almost every season is a struggle just to get to the middle of the district pack. But this season could be different.
Lakewood has a bona fide talent in shortstop/pitcher Cornelius Copeland. The senior hit .400 last season and also pitched. This season he is off to a good start and is the Spartans’ top pitcher.
“In the 20 years that I’ve been coaching baseball he’s the best shortstop I’ve ever had," first-year coach Jayce Ganchou said. “And he’s definitely the most heads-up baserunner I’ve ever had. He’s got the green light out on the basepaths."
One player doesn’t make a team, but Lakewood has other seniors who can play. Centerfielder Laterian Latimer, also a running back on the football team, covers lots of ground in the outfield. Leftfielder Jordan Ingram and rightfielder Melvin Dandridge give the Spartans an experienced outfield.
Second baseman Antonio Lovett is the fifth senior starter. Throw in junior third baseman Mike Ferrandiz and 6-foot-8 first baseman/pitcher Lance Smith, and Lakewood could be one of the area’s more interesting teams.
“Being a south county team people don’t think we have any talent," Copeland said. “But then when we beat them they are a little surprised. We’ve got a good senior class this year. We should scare some of those north county teams."
Copeland said he will likely sign with St. Petersburg College in the next few weeks and continue playing after high school. While not physically intimidating, Copeland is smooth at shortstop and very capable at the plate.
“I think people look at me being 5-8, 5-9 and don’t think I can play," Copeland said. “Then they see me play and change their mind."
Lakewood has the potential to change lots of people’s minds this season.
“We have quite a lot of team speed," Ganchou said. “And we have senior leadership and some juniors who can play. We’re trying to start a program here and we’re off to a good start."
Records through Wednesday
1. East Lake (6-0): The Eagles won the Lee Byers Invitational on their own field, then beat Seminole the week after. No team is off to a hotter start. Led so far by Brad Depperman, Troy Strominger, Doug Rovello, Keegan Maronpot and Grant Hodges.
2. Seminole (4-1): The Warhawks are loaded. The top half of the lineup features Scott Withrow, Alex McGathey, St. Petersburg Catholic transfer Corey Baptist, Michael Mann and Nick Nolan. The Warhawks do have to replace Brett Phillips in center, but that’s about the only hole.
3. Countryside (4-0): Jake Mielock, a University of Tampa signee, is an ace on any team. But there are plenty of other arms and bats that will keep the Cougars in every game.
4. Clearwater Central Catholic (5-1): After stumbling in the first game against Lakewood, the Marauders have rattled off five straight under the veteran leadership of coach Todd Vaughan.
5. Osceola (3-2): Beat Seminole and East Lake in preseason games but did lose twice in the Lee Byers tournament. Justin Kremer and Keith Weisenberg are solid starters and will keep the Warriors in most games.
6. Tarpon Springs (4-2): Spongers won the Clearwater High Invitational to start the season before hitting a rough patch.
7. Indian Rocks Christian (4-2): Already beat Clearwater and Northeast, and lost to Tarpon Springs by just a run in the Clearwater tournament. Matt Schaefer is hitting over .400 and Mitch Palm is already 2-0 for the Golden Eagles.
Other players to watch
SS Kellen Brown, Sr., Dunedin: Already signed with Florida Atlantic; Brown hit .429 last season with 21 RBIs and 29 runs scored.
P/SS Brandon Grigsby, Jr., Pinellas Park: The Patriots are in every game if Grigsby is on the mound. He’s also solid at the plate.
P/SS Caleb Koulianos, Sr., Tarpon Springs: Should be the Spongers’ No. 1 starter. Hit .316 last season and is steady at shortstop.
CF Jacob McFadden, Jr., St. Petersburg Catholic: USF commit who has range in centerfield and hit .374 as a sophomore.
P/OF Matt Piatt, Sr., Calvary Christian: Already off to a hot start, hitting over .500 in four games with two doubles and a home run.
OF Ricardo Rivera, Jr., St. Petersburg: A standout for the past two seasons, he’ll continue to get better.
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