SEMINOLE — At first glance, Osceola looks like your average high school baseball team. The Warriors aren’t overly intimidating when they got off the team bus or go through pre-game warmups. There are no oversized home run hitters or pitchers who throw 90-plus mph.
But take Osceola lightly at your own risk.
Despite losing star player Taylor Layner, the Times’ 2011 Player of the Year, and several other seniors, the Warriors have continued as one of the area’s top teams. They proved it wouldn’t be a rebuilding year right off the bat by winning the Lee Byers Invitational at East Lake.
Then there was the Dunedin Spring Tournament championship, in which Osceola put together four impressive wins over Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg Catholic, Clearwater Central Catholic and Tarpon Springs in the championship game. It was the Warriors’ first title in the prestigious tournament.
“We lost a lot of really good seniors last year so we really didn’t know what to expect,’’ senior leftfielder Rickey Whiteman said. “But we’ve just been able to get it done. The more pressure, the better we do.’’
Osceola (18-5) heads into the Class 6A, District 12 tournament as the No. 2 seed behind Lakewood Ranch. The reason there hasn’t been much dropoff from last season, when Osceola won a district championship, is not only because of senior leadership, but the sophomore class.
Whiteman has been a key offensive weapon as the No. 3 hitter. He is hitting nearly .400 and also provides solid defense. Senior Justin Kremer has been a reliable pitcher and offensive threat, and senior Josh Townsend has anchored the leadoff spot.
But the most surprising part of the Osceola lineup has been the emergence of three sophomores. Pitcher Keith Weisenberg has stepped up as the No. 1 pitcher. Buddy Dougherty, the No. 3 pitcher who started and won the Dunedin tourney championship game, has been reliable. And third baseman Jaret Helinger has provided both offense and defense after earning a starting spot due to injuries.
Dougherty and Helinger tried out for the team last year as freshmen and were cut.
“Our sophomores have really been a surprise,’’ Whiteman said. “Keith has come through as our top pitcher, Buddy has pitched great. Jaret Helinger got to start at third after some injuries. Those last two guys didn’t even make the team last year.’’
Dougherty and Helinger aren’t trying to prove anyone wrong this season. In fact, Helinger said getting cut made him a better player.
“I didn’t deserve to make it (last season),’’ Helinger said. “So I went to the gym all summer. I got stronger and better. I knew what I had to do this year to make it.’’
With the sophomores coming through and upperclassmen meeting expectations, Osceola could be around of the long haul.
If things go as planned, Osceola, which faces Largo Wednesday in the semifinals, will meet Lakewood Ranch for the district championship. The Warriors lost to Lakewood Ranch 2-0 on April 5. But this is tournament time, and Osceola is 2-for-2 in tournaments this year.
“We’re a team that is made for tournaments,’’ Osceola coach Stefan Futch said. “We’ve got a lot of pitching depth so we’re not bothered by playing a lot of games in a row. If we can keep hitting we’ve got a good chance.’’
8A-8 at various sites
Tuesday: No. 4 Sarasota Riverview at No. 1 Palm Harbor University, 4; No. 3 East Lake at No. 2 North Port, 6; Thursday: Final at PHU, 4
7A-10 at Countryside
Tuesday: No. 4 Northeast vs. No. 5 Pinellas Park, 4; No. 3 St. Petersburg vs. No. 6 Clearwater, 7; Wednesday: No. 1 Seminole vs. Northeast/Pinellas Park winner, 4; No. 2 Countryside vs. St. Pete/Clearwater winner, 7; Friday: Final, 4
6A-12 at various sites
Tuesday: No. 5 Dixie Hollins at No. 4 Palmetto, 7; Wednesday: Dixie/Palmetto winner at No. 1 Lakewood Ranch, 7; No. 3 Largo at No. 2 Osceola, 7; Friday: Final at TBD, 7
6A-10 at River Ridge
Monday: No. 4 River Ridge vs. No. 5 Sunlake, 7; Tuesday: No. 2 Land O’Lakes vs. No. 3 Mitchell, 4; No. 1 Tarpon Springs vs. River Ridge/Sunlake winner, 7; Thursday: Final, 7
5A-12 at various sites
Tuesday: No. 5 Bradenton Southeast at No. 4 Lakewood, 7; No. 6 Gibbs at No. 3 Boca Ciega, 7; Wednesday: Southeast/Lakewood winner at No. 1 Dunedin, 7; Bogie/Gibbs winner at No. 2 Bradenton Bayshore, 7; Friday: Final at TBD, 7
3A-9 at St. Petersburg Catholic
Monday: No. 6 Northside Christian vs. No. 7 Admiral Farragut, 7; Tuesday: No. 3 Calvary Christian vs. No. 4 Shorecrest, 4; No. 2 Clearwater Central Catholic vs. No. 5 Indian Rocks Christian, 7; Wednesday: CCC/IRC winner vs. Calvary/Shorecrest winner, 4; No. 1 St. Petersburg Catholic vs. Northside/Farragut winner, 7; Friday: Final, 7
2A-9 at Canterbury
Monday: No. 4 Keswick Christian vs. No. 5 Lakeside Christian, 6; Tuesday: No. 2 Sarasota Christian vs. No. 3 Manatee HEAT, 5; No. 1 Canterbury vs. Keswick/Lakeside winner, 7; Thursday: Final, 6