Now that the district tournaments are over and the dust has cleared, we look at the Pinellas teams left standing for region play:
1. Is there a state title team in Pinellas?
The county’s title hopes likely start and end with Clearwater Central Catholic. The Marauders (25-0) clinched their first undefeated regular season in school history. A loss now would make that a footnote.
The path through regionals could include a fourth meeting with district rival Calvary Christian. Fort Myers Canterbury appears to be the best team in the bracket for a possible region final matchup.
Just getting to the state tournament isn’t the expectation for this year’s Marauders. They did that last season. Winning the school’s first state title since 2007 is the goal. With a pitching staff that includes David Paul, Michael Paul, Tyler Simmons and Jeff Smith, and hitters like Brenden Overton (.492, seven homers), Zuriel Collins (.373, 22 RBIs) and Andrew Murphy (.358), CCC is certainly loaded to make a run.
2. Can the aces come through on the road?
Osceola, Calvary Christian, St. Petersburg, East Lake and Boca Ciega sure hope so. All five have tough away games, but all five have aces who just might be able to pitch their teams to victory.
Osceola’s Keith Weisenberg has a 0.34 ERA and a fastball that has scouts showing up at every game. He’ll likely pitch bigger games in his career, but Thursday at Jefferson will be the biggest to date.
Calvary Christian’s Daniel Broeseker and his gaudy 98 strikeouts will be relied upon to get past Sarasota Cardinal Mooney on Wednesday. If that happens, he’ll likely go again in the region semifinal.
East Lake’s Brad Deppermann has the unenviable task of pitching at Sarasota, ranked No. 2 in the state by MaxPreps. But Deppermann throws gas and has more than 70 strikeouts, so he could slow down the Sailors.
St. Petersburg’s David Sockol and Boca Ciega’s Tanner Watkins don’t have the big stats, but both have been crucial for their teams. Sockol, a junior, is a strike-throwing left-hander who is 6-1 with a 0.69 ERA. He’ll need his best outing to get past Plant on Thursday. Watkins, a senior, is 7-2 with a 1.32 ERA and 85 strikeouts. Like Sockol, he’ll need his best stuff at Jesuit.
3. Is Northeast ready for prime time?
The Vikings have been the feel-good team of the season, winning 17 straight with very few superstars. Now comes the hard part.
Braden River is a .500 team from a tough district that just got thumped by Sarasota. Assuming the Vikings get past Wednesday, a likely showdown with Sarasota awaits.
“I’ve been waiting for this ever since I got here,’’ Northeast catcher Bret Maxwell said.
4. Does Pinellas have a shot vs. Hillsborough teams?
Osceola at Jefferson. St. Petersburg at Plant. Boca Ciega at Jesuit. Yikes.
Traditionally, Pinellas teams don’t play well across the bridge. And these pairings are as tough as they get. Despite the suspensions of nine players, Jesuit still won its district and has its sights set on Port St. Lucie.
Plant is 22-5 and has won 10 straight. And Jefferson is a 20-game winner that beat King 11-1 in the district final. All three Pinellas teams will be long shots to survive, but if I had to pick one it would be Osceola.
5. What about Class 2A?
Canterbury and Lakeside Christian both have a tough road. Lakeside is making its first appearance in regionals after beating Keswick Christian in the semifinals of a three-team district. Playing at Bayshore Christian may be too much to expect for a first-year playoff team. Canterbury does not have an easy draw with Cambridge Christian. The Crusaders are 12-11 and lost to Cambridge in February.
7 p.m. unless noted
7A: East Lake at Sarasota
7A: Braden River at Northeast
5A: Boca Ciega at Jesuit
3A: Calvary Christian at Sarasota Cardinal Mooney, 4:30
3A: Sarasota Out-of-Door at Clearwater Central Catholic
8A: St. Petersburg at Plant
6A: Osceola at Jefferson
2A: Cambridge Christian at Canterbury
2A: Lakeside Christian at Bayshore Christian