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District baseball preview: Even the favorites are wary

Taylor Layner’s prowess at the plate and on the mound has led Osceola to the top spot entering the Class 5A, District 11 tournament.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Taylor Layner’s prowess at the plate and on the mound has led Osceola to the top spot entering the Class 5A, District 11 tournament.

Baseball has become a free-for-all among Pinellas County teams. Which teams do not have a hope of making the playoffs? Not many in this wacky season in which struggling teams need only to remember they are only a game away from turning things around. The breakdown of this week's district tournaments:

Class 6A, District 7

(at Countryside)

Schedule: Monday — Gaither (3) vs. St. Petersburg (6), 4 p.m.; Countryside (4) vs. Sickles (5), 7; Tuesday — Gaither/St. Petersburg winner vs. Mitchell (2), 4; Countryside/Sickles winner vs. Alonso (1), 7; Thursday — Final, 7

Outlook: Countryside and St. Petersburg have fared well against county opponents. Trouble is, they are the only county teams in a district that includes some of the toughest teams in Hillsborough and Pasco. If the Green Devils get past their first-round game, they'll face Mitchell and ace Patrick Schuster, who will be going for his fifth straight no-hitter. If the Cougars get past Sickles, they'll face Alonso, the top seed in the district.

Sleeper team: St. Petersburg, a young team that features only one senior, got on a roll during the second half of the season, winning six of its final eight games. Included in that stretch were wins against Seminole and Osceola.

Class 5A, District 11

(at Northeast)

Schedule: Monday — Northeast (4) vs. Dixie Hollins (5), 7 p.m.; Tuesday — Gibbs (7) vs. Seminole (2), 4; Lakewood (3) vs. Boca Ciega (6), 7; Wednesday — Northeast/Dixie Hollins winner vs. Osceola (1), 4; Gibbs/Seminole winner vs. Lakewood/Boca Ciega winner, 7; Friday — Final, 7

Outlook: Osceola still is the frontrunner, despite losing three games during the past week, including one to St. Petersburg that cost the Warriors a chance to appear in the conference championship game. None of the week's losses, though, came against district opponents. Osceola has the best pitching tandem in Taylor Layner and Winston Rivas, and that will be tough to beat in the tournament. Seminole lost two of three to Osceola during the regular season. The Warhawks have done well against everyone else. Mike Martello has been steady on offense, and Seminole has a deep pitching staff to get through.

Sleeper team: The Vikings, with a lineup full of juniors, struggled during the first half of the season. Since then, they've won six straight with impressive victories against Countryside, East Lake and Palm Harbor. A big reason for the turnaround is Jerrod Flanagan, who is starting to display his power.

Class 5A, District 9

(at Dunedin's Englebert Complex)

Schedule: Tuesday — East Lake (2) vs. Largo (7), 5 p.m.; Palm Harbor University (3) vs. Clearwater (6), 5; Tarpon Springs (4) vs. Pinellas Park (5), 8; Wednesday — East Lake/Largo winner vs. Palm Harbor/Clearwater winner, 5; Tarpon Springs/Pinellas Park winner vs. Dunedin (1), 8; Friday — Final, 7:30

Outlook: Without a doubt, this is the most topsy-turvy district in the county. Good games abound, starting in the quarterfinals. The clear-cut favorite is Dunedin, which has won eight straight and dominated St. Petersburg in the conference championship game last week. The Falcons have the pitching, with Ryan Reedy and Alex Norris, and the offense, powered by Casey Turgeon. Tarpon Springs has the pitching with Alex Young and Tommy Organ to make a run. And the Eagles and Hurricanes have the bats to make a bit of noise.

Sleeper team: The Tornadoes have made a habit of knocking off quality teams this season. They beat Osceola twice and knocked off Seminole in its tournament. In the district, they have wins against East Lake, Palm Harbor U, Pinellas Park and Tarpon Springs.

Class 3A, District 11

(at St. Petersburg Catholic)

Schedule: Monday — Berkeley Prep (4) vs. Lennard (5), 7 p.m.; Tuesday — Berkeley/Lennard winner vs. Tampa Catholic (1), 4; Clearwater Central Catholic (3) vs. St. Petersburg Catholic (2), 7; Thursday — Final, 5 or 7

Outlook: Tampa Catholic is the frontrunner. The Crusaders won the Dunedin tournament three weeks ago and gave Jesuit a scare this month. St. Petersburg Catholic beat Tampa Catholic and Clearwater Central Catholic this season and are the favorite to earn the other playoff spot.

Sleeper team: The Marauders have two strong pitchers in Zach Olson and Patrick Camporini, and played in some close games against Tampa Catholic and St. Petersburg Catholic.

Class 2A, District 11

(at Northside)

Schedule: Monday — Admiral Farragut (4) vs. Keswick (5), 4 p.m.; Tuesday — Shorecrest (3) vs. Bradenton St. Stephens (2), 4; AFA-Keswick winner vs. Northside Christian (1), 7; Thursday — Final, 7

Outlook: The Mustangs rolled through the district competition and are trying to get back to the region final again. St. Stephens handed Northside its lone district loss.

Sleeper team: Shorecrest always plays a tough schedule to prepare for this time of the year. Marc Brakeman has been the Chargers' leader at the plate and on the mound.

Class A, District 11

(at Canterbury)

Schedule: Tuesday — Oldsmar Christian (3) vs. Citrus Park Christian (2), 6 p.m.; Thursday — Oldsmar Chr./Citrus Park Chr. winner vs. Canterbury (1) (final), 6

Outlook: The Crusaders, despite losing most of its lineup from last year, are the overwhelming favorite to win the title again. Because it holds the No. 1 seed and receives a bye, Canterbury automatically advances to the championship game in the three-team district.

District baseball preview: Even the favorites are wary 04/25/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 25, 2009 11:48pm]
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