If there’s one constant through 42 years of the Dunedin Spring Tournament, it’s that the most well-rounded teams tend to find their way to the finals. There is rarely a fluke that pops up in the Friday night championship game.
This year is no exception.
Tarpon Springs and Osceola are almost mirror images of each other. Both teams have good starting pitching. Both teams play solid defense. And both teams, on any given day, can hit the cover off the ball.
An example was Wednesday’s semifinals. Tarpon Springs got a no-hitter from Michael Dunnigan and two triples from Brendan Overton in an 8-0 win over East Lake. Dunnigan was aided by solid defense, especially from third baseman Ethan Lichtenburg.
Osceola got a three-hitter from Justin Kremer in an 8-0 win over defending champion Clearwater Central Catholic. The Warriors pounded out nine hits and got solid defensive play, especially from third baseman Jaret Helinger.
Perhaps overall record will be an indication of which team might be favored tonight. Tarpon Springs is 14-3. Osceola is … 14-3.
Okay, how about head-to-head play? The teams met in the second round of the Lee Byers Invitational last month at East Lake.
Osceola won 1-0 on a one-hitter by Kremer.
This time around, Kremer won’t be able to pitch. Osceola coach Stefan Futch isn’t saying who gets the start, but Tarpon Springs does get to pitch ace Caleb Koulianos.
“We got Caleb going and we’re on a little streak right now,’’ Tarpon Springs coach Dickie Hart said. “It should be fun.’’
The Spongers have won 11 straight games; all three losses were by one run. Osceola has won six of its past seven. Tarpon Springs has not won the Dunedin tournament since 1994. The Warriors have never won nor even been in the championship game.
“A lot of people doubted us this year,’’ Kremer said. “We lost our big gun last year (Taylor Layner), so it’s really special for us to be in the final of this tournament. It’s something we haven’t done before.’’
The big guns for Tarpon Springs so far have been catcher Tommy Grill, who is hitting .449 with 12 RBIs. Hunter Bonner isn’t far behind at .432 with 10 RBIs.
Not to be outdone, Osceola is led by Rickey Whiteman, who is hitting a gaudy .490 with 13 RBIs. Kremer is batting .378 with 20 RBIs.
Stats aside, players from both teams are just happy to be playing in the final. Dunnigan, a senior, is playing in his fourth Dunedin tournament and had never played in the championship game.
“Every year I’ve been here we’ve taken third place,’’ Dunnigan said. “I’m so excited to finally be playing in the championship game We’ve been on a winning streak, and it’s especially nice to keep it going in this tournament because it has some of the best teams in Pinellas County. We’re a pretty confident team right now.’’
Predictably, Osceola is also fairly confident. The Warriors have outscored tourney opponents 25-7. Then again, Tarpon Springs hasn’t allowed a run in its past two games.
This final has extra innings written all over it.
“We have a lot of arms so we’re a good tournament team,’’ Futch said. “As long as our bats come alive and we start swinging it, we’ll be okay.’’