Largely due to the burgeoning popularity of American Legion B, whose teams can be coached by the high school varsity coach, Legion A baseball has sustained a decline in participation locally.
This season, the Southwest Area Legion A has decreased from 12 to seven teams.
However, that's good news for some teams. Now they don't have to worry about being left out of the post-season.
All seven teams will qualify for the Southwest Area Legion A tournament, which begins Wednesday at the Naimoli Complex.
Three of the Legion A teams are from Pinellas County: Madeira Beach Post 273, Gulfport Post 125 and the tournament host, St. Petersburg Post 14.
The remaining four teams are Holiday Post 79, Manatee Post 24, Sarasota Baseball Club and Venice Post 159.
The brackets won't be settled until the regular season ends Sunday, but the schedule is set: Three games each day, all at 4:30 p.m., on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; two games, at 9:30 a.m. and noon, on July 28; and the championship game at 10 a.m. July 29.
Each year, one of the six area tournaments sends two teams, instead of one, to the state tournament.
This is the "lucky" year for the Southwest Area, so both participants in the title game will advance to the state tournament.
Madeira Beach and St. Petersburg are in contention for the tournament's top seed along with Holiday. Madeira Beach was 10-4 in league play heading into a doubleheader Friday against the Sarasota Baseball Club.
St. Petersburg completed its league schedule at 11-5 (16-6 overall) with a doubleheader sweep of Gulfport on Wednesday, 8-3 and 10-0. Sean Wiggins (five innings) and Ryan Heacox (two) combined for the win in Game 1, and Scott Moeller went five innings for the mercy-rule shutout in Game 2.
Jason Leonard had a home run and two doubles in the two games. Ron Zimmer had four hits, including two triples, and Zach Wendkos had four hits, including two doubles.
SPEAKING OF STATE . . .: Southwest Area Legion B tournament champion East Lake continued its torrid play Friday in the opening game of the eight-team, double-elimination state tournament in DeLand.
East Lake, which torched its four opponents in the Southwest Area tournament by a combined 38-6, whipped Bartow 8-1. East Lake plays Oviedo, a 9-1 winner over Port Orange in its first game, at noon today.
ON DISPLAY: Clearwater left-handed pitcher Cameron Betourne, a rising junior, will participate in the Team One Midwest Showcase from Aug. 10-12 at Notre Dame.
_ PETE YOUNG