Quiet as kept, March Madness really starts in earnest in Hillsborough County during spring break. But not in the gym.
For the 32nd year, 30 of the county’s baseball teams — all of them public schools — will compete in the Saladino high school baseball tournament. It’s a late winter-early-spring tradition, spread out over four sites — Brandon, Jefferson and Riverview high schools and the University of Tampa — that signifies the moment when local sports fans can turn their attention to the diamond.
This year’s tournament figures to be as competitive as ever, with only one undefeated team among the bunch (Steinbrenner) and at least four of the teams from loaded District 8A-7 vying for the championship.
Picking a winner seems a fool’s errand but that’s what March is all about:
Teams: Armwood, Brandon, Freedom, Newsome
Favorite: Newsome. After finishing last in District 8A-7 in 2012, the Wolves have been one of the area’s most surprising teams early this season.
Teams: Brooks-DeBartolo, Durant, King, Spoto
Favorite: Durant. Another 8A-7 team looks to be one of the tournament’s best. Despite losing two of their past three, the Cougars are the favorites against almost any team if Florida signee Tyler Danish is on the mound.
Teams: Alonso, Chamberlain, Jefferson, Plant City
Favorite: Alonso. The third team from 8A-7 favored to win its pool, the Ravens also face the toughest road to the quarterfinals. Plant City and Jefferson, last year’s champ, could easily overtake them.
Teams: Robinson, Steinbrenner, Strawberry Crest, Tampa Bay Tech
Favorite: Steinbrenner. Other than Jesuit, which isn’t in the tournament, no team in the county has been better than the Warriors. Their school’s namesake could appreciate their early dominance.
Teams: Blake, Bloomingdale, Leto, Riverview
Favorite: Riverview. The Sharks, who enter the tournament at 5-5, have lost to teams with a combined record of 30-16. They’re battle-tested and have homefield advantage.
Teams: Hillsborough, Lennard, Plant, Sickles
Favorite: Plant. 8A-7’s fourth team to top one of the pools. The Panthers have lost two of their past three, but those two came against Steinbrenner and Alonso. Plant still should emerge from this tough grouping.
Teams: East Bay, Gaither, Middleton, Wharton
Favorite: Gaither. This is basically a two-team race between the Cowboys and Wharton, which has won only three of its first nine games. Gaither might have the easiest draw in the tournament.
Projected semifinals: Steinbrenner vs. Alonso; Durant vs. Newsome
Projected final: Steinbrenner vs. Durant
Projected winner: Steinbrenner. The only undefeated team in the tournament could stay that way through a possible final matchup against Durant. The Warriors have the pitching to silence the Cougars’ bats.
At Brandon: Brooks-DeBartolo vs. King, 10; Spoto vs. Durant, 1; Freedom vs. Newsome, 4; Armwood vs. Brandon, 7
At Jefferson: Robinson vs. Strawberry Crest, 10; Tampa Bay Tech vs. Steinbrenner, 1; Chamberlain vs. Alonso, 4; Jefferson vs. Plant City, 7
At Riverview: Hillsborough vs. Sickles, 10; Lennard vs. Plant, 1; Blake vs. Bloomingdale, 4; Riverview vs. Leto, 7
At University of Tampa: East Bay vs. Wharton, 10; Middleton vs. Gaither, 1
At Brandon: King vs. Spoto, 10; Durant vs. Brooks-DeBartolo, 1; Newsome vs. Armwood, 4; Brandon vs. Freedom, 7
At Jefferson: Strawberry Crest vs. Tampa Bay Tech, 10; Steinbrenner vs. Robinson, 1; Chamberlain vs. Jefferson, 4; Plant City vs. Alonso, 7
At Riverview: Plant vs. Hillsborough, 10; Sickles vs. Lennard, 1; Leto vs. Bloomingdale, 4; Blake vs. Riverview, 7
At University of Tampa: Gaither vs. East Bay, 10; Wharton vs. Middleton, 1
Cambridge at Academy at the Lakes, 3:30
At Brandon: Spoto vs. Brooks-DeBartolo, 10; King vs. Durant, 1; Armwood vs. Freedom, 4; Newsome vs. Brandon, 7
At Jefferson: Tampa Bay Tech vs. Robinson, 10; Strawberry Crest vs. Steinbrenner, 1; Plant City vs. Chamberlain, 4; Alonso vs. Jefferson, 7
At Riverview: Lennard vs. Hillsborough, 10; Sickles vs. Plant, 1; Leto vs. Blake, 4; Bloomingdale vs. Riverview, 7
At University of Tampa: Middleton vs. East Bay, 10; Wharton vs. Gaither, 1
At Brandon: quarterfinals, 10, 1, 4 and 7
At Brandon: semifinals, 4 and 7
At Brandon: final, 7