TRINITY — Winning last year's Farm Bureau Classic was a landmark for the Mitchell High baseball team, which finished first in a field of 16. Mitchell, unbeaten through its first seven games and among the tournament favorites this year, will try to do it again.
The Mustangs, under first-year head coach Joe Koehler, open the Pasco-Hernando spring tourney Monday afternoon against Lecanto.
Koehler is familiar with his roster, and not just because it contains his son, Justin, a sophomore leading the squad with a .471 batting average through seven games. Koehler has been an assistant for the past nine years and was the on-campus presence — former head coach Scot Wilcox did not teach at the school.
"Really, nothing has changed. You just get to deal with the parents more," Koehler said.
What's different is the offense, which struggled at key times last year. Mitchell made the playoffs but managed just one run between its district final defeat to Northeast and its region loss, 1-0 in eight innings to Brandon.
Already this season, the Mustangs have won five games when trailing through three innings.
"That second time around the order . . . seems like we don't want to go away," Koehler said. "We've been preaching, 'Never quit, never go home. Finish. All the time, finish,' and right now we're finishing every game. And it seems like the seniors have taken ownership."
They include catcher Kyle DeJesus, Ryan Delnegro (.273 batting average), Trevor Foggia (second in RBIs) and pitchers Evan Waterbor, Blake Parry and Kyle White. Junior Carrington Adler is second on the team with a .412 average, followed by Johny Acaro (.375). Sophomore Derick Stager, who is hitting .300, is the RBI leader.
But pitching is still a strength.
Junior Jake Mattos, who led the Mustangs in wins and strikeouts last year, is 2-0, as is Waterbor, whose complete-game 2-1 defeat of district rival Sunlake gave Mitchell a leg up in Class 7A-District 10.
Given the format of the Farm Bureau Classic, hosted by Hernando High with Springstead, Central and Weeki Wachee as satellite sites, it will take more than a tremendous duo. Teams must go 4-0 in five days to win.
That will mean more mound work from Parry — who has seen Waterbor take up some of his innings but is a very strong third option — as well as from Justin Koehler.
"When you play in a tournament like this, it's all about the arms and I feel like that's one of our strengths," Joe Koehler said.
Mitchell is in the Springstead quadrant; the host Eagles take on Fivay in the Monday night game.
Hernando head coach Tim Sims and longtime friend Calvin Baisley of Land O'Lakes are joined by Gulf and Crystal River in the quadrant hosted by the Leopards.
"What we try to do in the first round is get teams that don't normally play a chance to match up," Sims said. "Taking a look at the bracket, how it ended up, it's a pretty stout tournament."
The Gators are also among the favorites.
"We aren't playing the way we're capable of, and as soon as we click together we will dominate," Land O'Lakes ace McCabe Sargent said. "We haven't had our best stuff lately . . . but wait on it. We're going out with a bang our senior year, and this tournament is just the beginning to prove ourselves."
River Ridge, off to a 5-0 start, has similar motivation and is in the Central bracket with Citrus and Zephyrhills.
"Honestly, we saw where we were ranked at the beginning of the season and we all decided it's time to prove ourselves. So we're gonna be coming out to this tournament extra hungry," says Kyle Chiger, the Royal Knights' dual threat.