The second season begins today as district tournaments start up.
1. Mitchell (24-0)
This week: Tuesday: Class 7A, District 10 semifinal at Northeast vs. Sunlake/Clearwater winner
Why they stayed put: The Mustangs didn’t lose in the regular season. Perhaps their biggest test would have been last Thursday at Calvary Christian, but that game was rained out. None of that matters now. Mitchell had two close games against Sunlake in the regular season, so if that’s the opponent it’s not a sure thing. Northeast is also in this district. It should be an interesting postseason.
2. Plant City (23-2)
This week: Tuesday: Class 8A, District 6 semifinal at home vs. Durant/East Bay winner
Why they moved up: The Raiders had a forfeit win and a forfeit loss in the regular season. Now comes a chance to win a district championship for the first time since the 1960s. The semifinal could be very interesting if Durant advances as expected. That is who the Raiders had to forfeit the Saladino tournament final against. Expect ace Parker Messick to take the mound for the semifinal. Plant City can hit and pitch, which should make it optimistic about the playoffs.
3. East Lake (22-2)
This week: Wednesday: Class 8A, District 7 semifinal at home vs. Pinellas Park/St. Petersburg winner
Why they moved down: The Eagles faltered a bit down the stretch. There was the loss to rival Palm Harbor University and a loss at home against Palmetto last week. Palmetto is a 14-win team, so East Lake is going to have to forget about that one. The district tournament is on their home field, which is a big advantage. Pitching is always the key and starters Ryan Slater (8-0, 0.79) and Copper Nelson (7-2, 1.39) are good enough to take the Eagles far.
4. Calvary Christian (20-4)
This week: Wednesday: Class 4A, District 4 semifinal at CCC vs. Tampa Prep/Tampa Catholic winner
Why they stayed put: The Warriors lost to Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic last week, but finished the season with a win over Carrollwood Day. The game against Mitchell was rained out so they only got 24 games in the regular season. They still have Nolan Hudi as the top starter. He is 8-1 with a 0.97 ERA. Josh Emerson has been an effective second starter with a 6-0 record and a 1.05 ERA. Even though the Warriors lost four more games than they have in the previous two regular seasons, they still have what it takes to get to Fort Myers.
5. Sickles (9-14)
This week: Tuesday: Class 8A, District 5 semifinal at Steinbrenner vs. Plant
Why they moved up: The Gryphons have won nine straight. This is a team on a mission after the forfeit losses. Dylan Eskew is 7-0 with a 0.54. He is the kind of pitcher who can get a team far into the postseason. But the staff is more than just Eskew. Chase Centala and Holden Wade have also been very good and Trey Bacon has been the save guy. Sickles may be one of the more well-rounded teams in the playoffs.
On the cusp
6. Wharton (19-4)
This week: Tuesday: Class 8A, District 4 semifinal at Strawberry Crest vs. Wiregrass Ranch
Why they moved up: The Wildcats ended the regular season on a four-game win streak. They beat Wiregrass Ranch both times in the regular season but both games have been close. Brian Baughman (6-1, 0.95) has been the ace. Expect him to start against the Bulls. Zach Ehrhard hit .431 with 17 RBIs. They are the top seed and will get either Strawberry Crest or Freedom with a semifinal win.
7. Jesuit (20-5)
This week: Tuesday: Class 6A, District 8 semifinal at Jefferson vs. Middleton/Blake winner
Why they stayed put: The regular season ended on a high note with a 3-2, eight inning win over Venice. That snapped a two-game losing streak. The Tigers need to refocus in what could be a challenging district. They are the top seed, but Jefferson has played them close both times in the regular season. The Dragons won the state championship last season. Jesuit has enough talent to get to the state tournament this season. Bennett Lee has been the top hitter this season with a .442 average with seven triples, 12 doubles and three home runs.
8. Northeast (19-6)
This week: Tuesday: Class 7A, District 10 semifinal at home vs. Osceola/Dixie Hollins winner
Why they moved down: The Vikings did not finish the season strong. But to put a silver lining on both losses last week, they came back from eight runs down against Dunedin before losing 10-8. And they lost 1-0 to PHU in the PCAC final. The Hurricanes are playing much better. Northeast can still hit and is never out of any game. If the pitching can step it up a bit, and if the Vikings can figure out Mitchell, it could be a good postseason.
9. Lennard (17-5)
This week: Tuesday: Class 7A, District 9 semifinal at Tampa Bay Tech vs. Brandon/Tampa Bay Tech winner
Why they moved up: The Longhorns got back on track with two shutout wins over Middleton and King to end the regular season. Braden River is the No. 2 seed and will likely be the stiffest competition in this district. Yazael Nunez has a 0.63 ERA in 44 2/3 innings pitched. The team has a .307 average. Levi Montero leads the way with a .475 average. There is enough pitching and hitting to go deep in the playoffs.
10. Springstead (20-4)
This week: Wednesday: Class 6A, District 6 semifinal at home vs. Lecanto/Citrus winner
Why they moved up: The regular season ended with two losses in the final four games. The Eagles have to hope that is out of their system. They were 10-0 in the district, so it stands to reason that they should be moving on to regionals. Jack Jasiak is good enough to take games over on the mound. Jiovel Lantigua has his home run total up to 12, so pitch to him at your own risk.
11. Leto (18-6)
This week: Tuesday: Class 7A, District 8 semifinal at Gaither vs. Hillsborough
Why they moved down: The Falcons have been a bit inconsistent to end the season. For the most part they have played well, especially when Christian Suarez is on the mound. They are the No. 2 seed behind Gaither in the district, so take nothing for granted. Leto made it to Fort Myers last year and could easily go on the same run this year.
12. Bloomingdale (16-7)
This week: Tuesday: Class 8A, District 6 semifinal at Plant City vs. Riverview
Why they moved in: The Bulls earned the No. 2 seed behind Plant City in a very competitive district. They have won four straight after losing to Riverview. Now comes a must game against the Sharks. Myles Caba and Justin McCalister have been solid pitchers this season. Brock Wilken ended the regular season with 10 home runs. This could be a very dangerous team in the postseason.
13. Riverview (16-7)
This week: Tuesday: Class 8A, District 6 semifinal at Plant City vs. Bloomingdale
Why they moved in: The No. 3 seed in a very difficult district. The regular season ended with a win over Gaither, which is encouraging. Ahmad Fitts had a very good regular season with a .391 average and three home runs. Nathan Hood has been very good on the mound with a 5-1 record and a 0.95 ERA. The Sharks shouldn’t be taken lightly.
14. Hernando (18-7)
This week: Wednesday: Class 5A, District 7 semifinal at Hudson vs. Fivay/Hudson winner
Why they moved down: The Leopards lost to South Sumter and Lakeland to finish out the regular season. They must have a short memory now that every game counts. The bats have been the key all season and they obviously need to stay hot. The pitching has been a bit inconsistent, so hitting and fielding will have to carry the Leopards. They are the top seed seven team district.
15. Alonso (14-9)
This week: Tuesday: Class 9A, District 8 semifinal at home vs. Sarasota Riverview
Why they moved in: The Ravens are the No. 1 seed in the district. They have won five straight, including wins over Robinson and Riverview. Forget the record, Alonso seems to be playing well at the right time. Renzo Gonzalez has been good on the mound and at the plate. He has a .372 average and has hit five home runs. If the rest of the offense can get going, there is enough pitching and defense to make some noise.
On the bubble
Bishop McLaughlin (17-6), Steinbrenner (16-8), Land O’Lakes (17-5), Berkeley Prep (17-7), Durant (17-7), Plant (14-9), Palm Harbor University (15-10).