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John C. Cotey: Alonso regains confidence at Saladino Tournament

Plant’s Joe Hudek, right, is forced out at second by Tyler Ding, one of four double plays Alonso turned in its victory.

EDWARD LINSMIER | Times

Plant’s Joe Hudek, right, is forced out at second by Tyler Ding, one of four double plays Alonso turned in its victory.

BRANDON — You remember the Alonso baseball team, right?

Ranked No. 1 in the country by one poll before the season started. No. 6 by another. Top 10 by just about everyone else.

Yeah, that team.

The one that lost its season opener. Was called overrated. Dropped from the polls.

Yep. That's them.

To say the Ravens disappeared would be a bit too much. To say they felt nudged aside?

"Yeah, people said we were a joke, we were overrated, and they kind of forgot about us," second baseman Tyler Ding said. "And it (stunk) to lose the ranking.

"But, hey, we're still here."

That much is certain, after the Ravens won the Saladino Tournament for the second straight season and the third time in four years.

In a typical, workmanlike effort, the Ravens dispatched Plant 6-1 in the final, relying on an outstanding pitching effort by Brandon Johnson, some fire to close it out by ace Jose Fernandez, and airtight defense featuring four tightly turned double plays.

"That's Alonso baseball — pitching and defense; the hitting is just a plus," Ding said.

So it was Johnson and 6-4-3s plus nine timely hits.

We have been here before. Last year, Alonso took the Saladino by storm, leaving with the title and an eight-game winning streak that it stretched all the way through the Class 6A state championship game.

For that reason, and the return of guys such as Ding and Fernandez and St. Petersburg Times player of the year Thomas Dorminy, the preseason accolades rolled in.

Here's the thing about starting No. 1: You have to win every game to stay there.

In this county, with this schedule, and a grinding tournament such as the Saladino right at the end, it's too much to ask.

"Almost impossible," coach Landy Faedo said.

Losses to Sickles, Plant, Brandon and Wharton — all teams Alonso was expected to beat — left the Ravens at 8-4.

"Being ranked was nice," shortstop Tito Martinez said. "But it was kind of like we had to win every game. Last year, we were the underdogs. Maybe that's where we like coming from."

This year, the Ravens leave the Saladino with 11 straight wins, and their eyes are set firmly on repeating last year's run.

No Tampa Bay area baseball team has repeated as state champion in more than 25 years, and no public school ever has.

"I think we're going to roll again after this," said Martinez, who singled, stole a base and started three of the double plays, including the game-ender.

"It seems like every year the Saladino comes around, we're ready. We're coming out of here feeling good."

Good? Try great.

"It couldn't be any better," Ding said. "This was a big test. Last year we had three losses coming in here. This year we had four. Now, from here on out, we just have to do everything better."

And consider, Dorminy hasn't even been, well, Dorminy yet. He hasn't been bad, but he also hasn't been great.

But Faedo says you can see the signs, that the best of the lefty is right around the corner.

When he gets there, there will no respite for opposing lineups.

"Tom is going to come around at the right time," Martinez said.

It's what the Ravens seem to do about this time every year.

John C. Cotey: Alonso regains confidence at Saladino Tournament 04/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 16, 2010 11:56pm]
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