Pitcher of the Year: Brett Morales, Sr., King
Why we picked him: Morales spent his first two seasons at King as an infielder, earning a reputation – and attention from college coaches – with his bat and glove. He transitioned to the mound as a junior, going 6-1 with a 0.99 ERA. But it was his senior year when Morales left little doubt that it was where he belonged all along. He went 11-2 with a 0.58 ERA and 127 strikeouts – which ranked among the top 40 pitchers in the country – in 85 innings. But parse that stat line a bit and his season becomes even more impressive: his only two losses came against eventual Class 8A finalist Durant in the Saladino Tournament and in the 6A state semifinal, and he allowed only seven earned runs all year. Morales also set a school-record with 17 strikeouts in a region final win over Mitchell, one of bay area’s most dominating performances of the spring. He answered almost every challenge, proving that he’ll be a fixture on the mound for years to come.
Most impressive accomplishment: After going to the state semifinals as a freshman, Morales and his teammates put a lot of pressure on themselves to return as seniors. They lived up to their own lofty expectations, winning 22 of 25 regular-season games, the District 6A-11 championship and their second region title in four years. “This is the best year I’ve ever had,” Morales said. “Getting back to states was something that was really special, doing it with guys I had been with for such a long time.”
Future plans: Morales, thought to be no later than a fourth-round MLB draft pick, announced Friday that he planned to go to Florida instead of signing with a major-league club. He said he’s looking forward to going to UF, a school he’s rooted for since he was a toddler. “We started getting a lot of calls around the end of the first round,” Morales said of Day 1 of the MLB draft. “But I just decided it wasn’t the best choice at the time. Going to Florida has been my dream since I was a little kid.”
Did you know? Big, tough, strong-armed Morales turns all weepy when it’s time to watch movies. “They get to me a little bit,” he admitted. He said he last got teary-eyed while watching The Blind Side, a film adaptation of a book about the life of current Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Michael Oher. “But I think it’s because I was happy for him in the end,” Morales said. Uh-huh. Sure.
Player of the Year: Tyler Danish, Durant
Why we picked him: While much is known about Danish’s exploits on the mound, far less attention was paid to his work at the plate this season. And with good reason. But that’s no reason to continually overlook his well-rounded game. Danish was also a force on offense, hitting .411 with 27 RBIs and tying for the county lead with nine homers. Those last two homers: a one-run blast in his last at-bat at home in the regional final and a two-run shot over a replica Green Monster in the state semifinal. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to hit four-something again so people wouldn’t say it was a fluke,” said Danish, who hit .378 as a junior after hitting .484 as a sophomore. “Then I learned to enjoy the chance to actually hit. It was a relief.” He was even better on the mound: Danish didn’t allow an earned run in 94 innings this spring.
Most impressive accomplishment: The stage was set for Danish in the region final against Orlando Timber Creek, with Durant holding a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning. The Cougars only needed nine more outs to clinch their first regional championship. Danish closed out the game with dramatic flair, hitting a solo homer in the sixth and then striking out the final three batters for the win. “To be the guy the team leaned on to get to state,” Danish said. “It’s one of those moments that I’ll never forget.”
Future plans: Danish, a UF signee, seems likely to join the Chicago White Sox’ organization after they made him the 55th overall pick in the MLB draft Thursday night. He said as much on Twitter Friday: “Still an unbelievable feeling that I’m a professional baseball player.”
Did you know? Danish is back to a closely cropped ‘do after letting his hair out for the season. He refused to cut his hair after his streak of innings without allowing an earned run kept going and going and going. By the end of the year, 94 innings later, Danish was fairly shaggy. “I really didn’t like it,” he said. “But I wasn’t going to cut it as long as the streak was alive.”
Coach of the Year
Butch Valdes, Durant: Valdes had the Cougars on the cusp of a breakthrough before, back in 2011 when they lost in the region finals. This year, Valdes and Durant finally delivered on their considerable promise after emerging from one of the state’s toughest districts, 8A-7. The Cougars won their first district and region titles in program history en route to an appearance in the Class 8A championship game. A Jefferson alum and acolyte of coaching legend Pop Cuesta, Valdes was a steady leader in the dugout and created a laid-back, family atmosphere for a team that allowed the team to flourish.
P – Nick Eicholtz, Sr. Cambridge Christian: Alabama signee had a 0.73 ERA and 82 strikeouts, leading the Lancers to the Class 2A semifinals.
P – Kevin Long, Sr., Plant City: Had 73 strikeouts and allowed only seven earned runs all season in the Raiders’ surprising run to the playoffs.
P – Jose Pupo, Sr., Leto: The Falcons don’t make their first playoff appearance in 12 years without Pupo, who went 7-3 with a 1.47 ERA and had 87 strikeouts.
P – Alex Faedo, Jr., Alonso: The 6-foot-5 son of coach Landy Faedo moved into the ace role and flourished, going 8-2 with a 1.14 ERA and 87 strikeouts.
C – Jesse Haney, Sr., Steinbrenner: Ranked second in RBIs (25) on one of the county’s best offenses, and hit .333 with nine doubles.
INF – Spencer Trayner, Sr., Jesuit: The best player on one of the nation’s top teams. UNC signee was both the Tigers’ ace (team-high seven wins and 56 IP) and top hitter (.463).
INF – Pete Alonso, Sr., Plant: UF signee was one of the area’s leaders in homers with seven. Also hit .387 with 22 RBIs and nine doubles.
INF – Tanner Williams, Sr., King: Probably the top offensive weapon for the Class 6A semifinalist, going .416 with 18 RBIs .
INF – Vincent Miniet, Sr., Jesuit: USF signee hit .347 with 25 RBIs, including a big two-RBI double in the region final win over Auburndale.
OF – Kyle Tucker, So., Plant: The UF commit’s batting average of .556 led the county and his nine homers tied for first. Also had 26 RBIs.
OF – Alex Hanson, Jr., Steinbrenner: Led the potent Warriors’ offense in batting average (.464) and tied for first with RBIs (33).
OF – Diamond Johnson, Jr., Hillsborough: Arguably the county’s top glove in the outfield, Johnson also hit .328 with 16 RBIs and four triples. He also used his speed to steal 21 bases.
DH – Cole Gordon, Jr., Steinbrenner: The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder should be one of the area’s top 2014 prospects after hitting .422 with 33 RBIs and seven homers.
UTIL – Levi Gilcrease, Jr., Cambridge Christian: A USF commit, Gilcrease did it all – and did it well – for the Lancers. He hit .493 with seven homers, stole 19 bases, committed no errors and had an ERA of 0.84.
P – Eric Hinostroza, Sr., Brandon
P – Brandon Caples, Sr., King
P – Logan Crouse, So., Bloomingdale
P – Ryan Tauscher, Sr., Newsome
C – Luis Medina, Fr., Tampa Prep
INF – Ryan McCullers, Jr., Jesuit
INF – Luke Heyer, Jr., Durant
INF – Devon Pedro, Sr., King
INF – Justin Ambrosino, Sr., Bloomingdale
OF – Nelson Maldonado, So., Jefferson
OF – Jamal Wilson, Sr., Bloomingdale
OF – Daniel Portales, Sr., Jesuit
DH – Brenden Rivera, Sr., Brooks-DeBartolo
UTIL – Erik Dowse, Sr., Newsome
Alonso: Napo Ballestero, Austin Gonzalez, Wyatt Reid; Armwood: Eric Hernandez, Shawn Queen; Berkeley Prep: Dante Bosnic, Bubba Olivera; Blake: Dean Dibenedetto, Noah Dyals, Tevin Smith, Corey Thompson; Bloomingdale: Cody Crouse, Ryan Kelley; Brooks-DeBartolo: Dariel Fonseca, Shane Jeffcoat; Brandon: Miguel Fajardo, Jacob Sugden, Austin Sullivan; Cambridge: Zach Hessinger, Tyler House; Carrollwood Day: Alex Gionis, Jack Syron; Durant: Chaz Fowler, Paxton Sims, Jake Sullivan, Garrett Wright; East Bay: Elmer Hernandez, Darius Sillart; Freedom: Austin Atkinson, Anthony Grampietro, John Berg; Gaither: Hunter Henderson, Oscar Mercado, Randy Oliva, Tyler Tyson; Hillsborough: Rodnie Bernard, Chris Figueredo, Wilbert Malpus, Dylan Moore; Jefferson: Luis Alcaraz, Jonathon Diaz, Ryan Jones, Trey Robinson; Jesuit: Ricky Caldevilla, Adrian Chacon, Jordan Parnell, Leland Saile, Kennie Taylor; King: Jose Lopez, Sam Rowe; Leto: Jonaton Alverez, Felix Dieguez, Jossue Guzzman, Dennis Morales; Lennard: Ramiro Carlin, Joe Mitchell, Alex Sanjurjo; Newsome: Michael Farley, Jake Gagain, Alex Kerr; Plant: Jake Woodford; Plant City: Sergio Garcia, Nick Rodriguez, Connor Slagill; Riverview: C.J. Lowe, Jeff Shapiro; Robinson: Charlie Cole, Jacquari Mattox, Zack Sabo, Bradley Whiteside; Sickles: Troy Bacon, Xavier Rodriguez; Spoto: Chris Chatfield, Kelvin George, Brandon Johnson; Steinbrenner: Mijon Cummings, Gideon Dunn, Logan LaPace, Kevin Merrell, Danny Rodriguez, Chase Turner; Strawberry Crest: Austin Boatright, Nick Brocato, Dustin Lawson, Jeff Murray, Jake Ralyea, Tanner Thompson; Tampa Catholic: Dre Leal, Jorge Romero, Clayton Smith; Tampa Prep: Nick DeTringo, Matt Hodges, Sam Martin; Wharton: Milton Figueroa, Alex Kranick, Ryan Lawson.