When Brandon and New Smyrna Beach meet in the 10 a.m. breakfast game today in the Class 7A state semifinals, there will not be a single college commitment on the field. But there will be plenty to watch.
The last time Brandon advanced to the state tournament, in 2008, a trio of college and pro-ball bound sophomores led the way. This year’s team doesn’t feature a James Ramsey (USF), Spencer Haynes (UCF) or Roderick Shoulders (25th-round draft pick by the Chicago Cubs).
“This group, as they were coming up as freshmen and sophomores, they were the JV type,” coach Matt Stallbaumer said. “These kids didn’t get an opportunity to play, the majority of them, until last year.”
What this group does have, though, is familiarity. Assistant coach Gary Cates, a Brandon alum, organized a Legion baseball summer team. Instead of groups of Eagles scattered across the state with AAU travel teams, they all played together.
And after a players-only meeting after an eight-inning, 3-2 loss to Bloomingdale in the Saladino Tournament, Brandon adopted a new motto: family.
“We try to keep it all together as best we can,” ace Chris Toney said.
Back to the future
New Smyrna Beach hasn’t advanced to the state tournament in 75 years (and the Barracudas lost that 1937 state final to 12-3 to Hillsborough). Since their 3-2 district semifinal win against Orange City University, the Barracudas have reached into the past for a bit of good luck as well, as sophomore pinch-runner Brian Fidler performs the moonwalk to Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean before games.
“Some of my best friends had seen me do it before,” Fidler told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “They just told me I had to dance before the game. I did it, we won, and I did it before the next game. We kept winning and I kept dancing.”
“It’s not something I’m happy about,” New Smyrna Beach coach Nick Regilio admitted. “But we’ve got to stick to what’s working.
Something, though, that must make Regilio happy: the 0.00 ERA senior pitcher Tyler Christensen has posted in 10 1/3 relief innings in three wins during the region playoffs.
Christensen is one of three New Smyrna Beach hurlers who entered the region tournament with more than 40 innings pitched and an ERA under 3.00. The other two are junior Joe McKee (2.01) and senior Dakota Todd (2.86).
In addition to his Brandon family, Toney, who grew up with three older sisters, wears remembrances of his biological family. The names of his nieces and nephews, Jacob and Aurora, are tattooed on the back of his forearms, and he wears his late grandmother’s wedding ring on his glove hand.
“She was pretty much my second mom, I lived with her my whole life,” Toney said of Bobbie Fedricks, who died before he entered high school. “She got me through everything and still gets me through everything.”
Man in the mask
Toney has logged 75 1/3 innings this year, going 10-1 with a 1.02 ERA, and junior Eric Hinostroza has been a solid No. 2, throwing 52 1/3 innings with a 1.61 ERA. The unsung hero in the pitching staff’s success, though, is catcher Adam Sass, who took up the position when an ACL injury left Brandon needing a catcher last year.
“Being a pitcher in college we were always told that you can have average pitching and great catching, and you put together a great pitching staff,” Stallbaumer said. “But if you have great pitching and poor catching, you’re not going to quite make it.
“Every key of what’s gone on so far with Chris Toney and Eric Hinostroza and our pitching staff collectively has been the one mainstay in our catcher, Adam Sass.”
Where: Digital Domain Park, Port St. Lucie
Admission: $9 per session; parking is $7
TV: Finals on BHSN
On the Web: Follow our live Twitter updates via @LauraHometeam.
Class 7A: Brandon vs. New Smyrna Beach, 10 Saturday
Class 2A: Miami Westwood Christian vs. Canterbury, 10 Monday
Class 3A: Tampa Prep vs. Jacksonville Providence, 10 Wednesday
Class 3A: Delray Beach American Heritage vs. St. Petersburg Catholic, 4 Wednesday