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District baseball: Committee of aces boosts Strawberry Crest

The Chargers’ pitching staff is deep. Is a return to state in the cards?

SEFFNER — Strawberry Crest doesn’t have an ace. It has an ace pitching staff.

Six Chargers — Brent May, Eli Garner, Kade Manderscheid, Alex Marshall, Bryan Boully and Jacob Heath — have thrown extensively through the season.

One of the six might throw three or four innings here, and another of the six might throw three or four there.

After 25 games, only one time — in Tuesday’s Class 8A, District 4 semifinal on Tuesday — has any of the six thrown a complete game, and that was Marshall in an 8-0 victory over Freedom.

Strawberry Cest senior Kade Manderscheid, who threw the final three and two-thirds innings, fires a pitch during an 8-0 victory against Wiregrass Ranch in the Class 8A, District 4 final Thursday night. (SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times)

In Thursday’s district final, it was more of the stellar pitching by committee, featuring three and a third shutout innings by Garner and the rest by Manderscheid in an 8-0 victory over Wiregrass Ranch.

Related: RELATED: Eric Beattie nurtures Strawberry Crest into a state title contender

“We have confidence in all our guys,” Strawberry Crest coach Eric Beattie said. “We will go to any one of them at any time with no doubts. We will look at the matchups and see what we think works best for us and then we go with it.”

The best part is that as the season progressed, Strawberry Crest (15-10) has not only pitched better and better, but has improved overall, much like the last year’s team that made it to the state semifinals before losing.

“This group has been together long enough to know what it feels like to peak early and what it what feels like to get it all going later in the season, like we did last year,” Beattie said. “This season I feel like we we’re getting it together at the right time once again.”

On Thursday, that involved starting quickly with six runs in the first three innings, while shutting out Wiregrass Ranch (14-10) at every turn.

On the offensive side, Strawberry Crest leadoff hitter Tanner Kelley led the way by going 3-for-4 with two doubles and a run scored, including the first one in the first inning to set the tone.

Moving forward, Manderscheid said, “We feel we have a lot more to prove. After we lost (in last year’s state semifinals) we were angry. We want to come back and get another shot and play better."