6A, Sarasota (22-4) at Alonso (22-5): This is perhaps the best region quarterfinal pairing in years. Both teams spent part of the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. After a midseason stumble, the Ravens have won 14 of their past 15, with their pitching and defense taking it up a notch. But the Ravens will need to get come pop from the bottom half of their order. The Sailors were the nation's top team just three weeks ago, but have lost four of their past five, all to Pinellas County foes.
6A, Plant (18-10) at St. Petersburg (16-8), 4: The Panthers came into the district tournament with the fifth seed in 6A-8, but beat Bloomingdale and Brandon to qualify for regions. It's not all that surprising. Plant's pitching has been excellent dating to its run in the Saladino Tournament. Still, the Panthers are young and will need more spectacular pitching — and good fundamentals — to advance. Take away a loss to Dunedin and the Green Devils have won eight straight.
5A, Springstead (20-5) at Armwood (16-9): The fourth-seeded Hawks swept through the District 8 tournament in impressive fashion, beating Durant and Plant City with hard-fought wins. In his past eight games, Armwood catcher Jose Spano is 11-for-22 with four home runs, including a 4-for-4 game in the district championship against Plant City. On paper, Armwood's postseason experience — most players from last year's Class 5A state tournament team remain — should be able to beat Springstead, a team that is making its first region tournament appearance in 15 years.
5A, Plant City (17-8) at Ocala Forest (15-12): The Raiders will log some serious mileage on this two-hour trip up to Ocala. With a lineup led by Kyle Madill (.447) and Sebastian Ray (.417), the Raiders are capable of scoring runs in bunches, but haven't been a consistent scoring team of late. Forest is making its ninth straight region tournament appearance.
5A, Bradenton Manatee (16-11) at King (16-10): The Lions are one of the feel-good stories of the late season under longtime coach Jim Macaluso. They enter as winners of four straight, including an upset win over Gaither in the 5A-9 championship to claim their first district title since 2004. The Lions allowed just four hits in the win over Gaither, and another stellar pitching performance is exactly what King will need against Manatee, which blew a one-run lead in the seventh inning of its district title game.
5A, Gaither (21-4) at Venice (12-8), 7:30: As good as Gaither has been offensively, the Cowboys' weakness was pretty evident after the district title loss to King. No matter how many runs they score, they won't win unless they play defense. Gaither had six errors against the Lions, and similar to their Saladino quarterfinal loss to Brandon, the wheels quickly fell off. They're a team that needs to win by a formula — score early, hold a lead and leave it for closer Dylan Hathcock to seal.
4A, Lakewood Ranch (12-11) at Jefferson (20-7): The Dragons are playing well at the right time. They just won their first district title since 2005, earning the 4A-9 crown with a 3-2 upset win over Jesuit. Jefferson has won games old school, manufacturing runs and playing heady defense. The Dragons can be frustrating to face because they hang in games and make you beat them.
4A, Jesuit (25-3) at Osceola (23-7): This is gut-check time for the Tigers, who draw a very tough first-round opponent. Jesuit hasn't been the best postseason team in recent years, and this is the Tigers' opportunity to turn that around. Pitching will carry them far, especially with one-two combo Daniel Gibson and Willi Martin as well as reliever Lance McCullers, but the runs must come for them to beat Osceola.
3A, Tampa Catholic (16-10) at Fort Meade (13-9): Will the real Tampa Catholic please show up? The Crusaders limp into the postseason. Take away a district tournament win over bottom seed Berkeley Prep in the 3A-10 tournament and the Crusaders have dropped six straight. If they lose to Fort Meade, it would mark the third straight season of getting knocked out in the region quarterfinals.
2A, Tampa Prep (14-11) at Lakeland Christian (14-11): The Terps have been streaky and enter the region tournament losers of five of their past eight after an eight-game win streak. The good news is that the Terps have beaten Lakeland Christian before, 14-5 in mid March.
A, Manatee HEAT at Cambridge (21-4), 4: The Lancers have outscored opponents 61-10 over the past four games, including an 8-5 win over Tampa Catholic. Cambridge has a good shot to reach state for the third straight year. In fact, this might be the Lancers' best team out of the three.
A, Citrus Park Christian (8-12) at Winter Haven All Saints' (17-4): The Eagles advanced to the region tournament with a 16-11 win over Bayshore Christian, but were dealt a 10-0 loss to Bradenton Christian in the district title game. All Saints', which beat St. Cloud in 11-1 its title game, should present a tough challenge.
Eduardo A. Encina, Times staff writer