You would think they’d be jumping for joy. Or at least quietly giving each other fist bumps.
The “District of Doom” — Class 5A, District 11 — has been reshuffled. Tarpon Springs, East Lake, Dunedin, Seminole and Clearwater no longer have to fight each other for a playoff berth. The Spongers have been exiled to Pasco. Dunedin has been sent south. East Lake is in a four-team district. Seminole and Clearwater are the only teams staying together.
What a relief, right?
“If I could change it, I’d go back into our old district,’’ Tarpon Springs coach Dickie Hart said.
“It was like the AL East,’’ he said. “Every game was fun. Anybody could beat anybody. Dunedin and Seminole were probably the best teams, but us and East Lake made it out. It was definitely exciting. Now we’re going into a place where you don’t know the teams very well, or the coaches. We just don’t know what to expect.’’
But they are free from the weekly winner-take-all games of March and April that have parents and coaches on the edge of their seats. Isn’t it less stressful to be out of that killer district?
“I wish we were still together,’’ Dunedin coach Tom Hilbert said. “It was such a competitive district, probably the most competitive Pinellas County has had in a long time. It also had those rivalries. I thought it was great.’’
Okay, fine. The rivalries are alive and well. The schools will still play each other in the regular season, although not as much as in the past. But the main focus will be on new district opponents.
East Lake and Palm Harbor University are grouped in Class 8A-8 with North Port and Sarasota Riverview. Clearwater and Seminole are in Class 7A-10 with Northeast, Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg and Countryside. Tarpon Springs is now in 6A-10 with Sunlake, River Ridge, Mitchell and Land O’Lakes. And Dunedin is in 5A-12 with Bradenton Bayshore, Boca Ciega, Gibbs, Lakewood and Bradenton Southeast.
“Those kids play against each other on travel ball teams, so there’s always bragging rights when they play against each other in high school,’’ East Lake coach Dan Genna said. “On the flip side, we know each other so well. Now that we’re in different districts, it’s like a breath of fresh air. We don’t know these teams as well.’’
Tarpon Springs and Dunedin should benefit most from the moves. The Spongers lose only starting shortstop Danny Robinson. He’ll be replaced by Caleb Koulianos, who is also in the starting rotation. Right-handers Michael Dunnigan and Anthony Bariso round out one of the top rotations in the county.
“Pitching will definitely be our strength,’’ Hart said.
The Spongers also have catcher Tommy Grill, power hitting sophomore Brenden Overton and speedy leadoff hitter Cole Miklavcic. They should have more than enough talent to compete.
“We’ve got a shot to have a good season,’’ Hart said. “We went from a district that was probably one of the best in the state to a new district, so the expectations are high. But we haven’t done anything yet.’’
Dunedin will have seven new players in the starting lineup. But shortstop Kellen Brown hit .563 last year and pitcher Colyn O’Connell is one of the best in the county. With a thin district, don’t count out the Falcons.
“We’ll be a little inexperienced, but we still have a lot of talent,’’ Hilbert said. “Our guys will compete.’’
Players to watch
Sr. Brett Phillips, OF, Seminole: Phillips, an N.C. State commit, had 16 extra-base hits last season and batted .380.
Jr. Caleb Koulianos, SS/RHP, Tarpon Springs: Will replace Danny Robinson at shortstop and anchor a strong starting rotation. His fastball hovers above 90 consistently.
Sr. Eric Hanhold, RHP, East Lake: The University of Florida signee was 9-2 last season with 51 strikeouts and a 1.83 ERA.
Jr. Corey Baptist, 1B, St. Petersburg Catholic: Provides power for the Barons after hitting .400 with four homers last season.
Jr. Alex McGathey, SS/RHP, Seminole: A rangy shortstop with a cannon for an arm, McGathey held opponents to a .108 batting average.
So. Brandon Grigsby, RHP/SS, Pinellas Park: Hit .350 as a freshman and went 6-2 as a starter. Should only get better this season.
Sr. Dalton Hughes, C, Canterbury: Solid defensively and provides power to experienced lineup.
Sr. Colyn O’Connell, RHP, Dunedin: The 6-foot-5 righty throws gas and will get plenty of big starts.
Sr. Marc Brakeman, RHP, Shorecrest: The Stanford commit will again anchor the rotation.
Sr. Josh Townsend, 2B, Osceola: Second-team Times’ all-county player last year brings experience to a young lineup.
1. Seminole: The Warhawks are loaded with pitching and offense.
2. Tarpon Springs: Only one player graduated from last year’s region playoff team.
3. Dunedin: Not much experience, but the Falcons are always talented.
4. East Lake: A senior-heavy team that could go a long way.
5. St. Petersburg Catholic: Should have no trouble in its district thanks to a stacked lineup and good pitching.
6. Dixie Hollins: Several coaches mentioned the Rebels as sleepers in south county this season.
7. Osceola: The Warriors are young, but may have enough pitching to get by.
For the fans
Regular season: Teams may not play more than 25 games. The regular season ends April 21.
Playoffs: District tournaments begin April 23. Regionals are the following week and the state tournament is May 17-24 in Port St. Lucie.
New this year
Composite bats: The familiar ping of aluminum bats will be dulled this season. Like college baseball, high schools in Florida will use the composites for the first time. The bats have an aluminum exterior, but there is a graphite layer behind it. It is supposed to simulate wood bats, which will likely put a premium on pitching and defense. Expect home runs and runs scored to be down.