This time last season, Mitchell was undefeated and the clear team to beat when it started the annual Farm Bureau Baseball Classic. The Mustangs rolled through three games, then outlasted Springstead 7-5 in the final.
Expectations are just as high this season.
Mitchell entered the week 6-0 prior to games against Fivay and Clearwater Central Catholic. It opens the spring break tournament against South Sumter on Monday night at 7 at Weeki Wachee.
The Mustangs are ranked 13th nationally by MaxPreps. They are one of the favorites in the tournament, which includes 16 teams from Pasco and Hernando counties.
“I think we’re pretty good everywhere," Mitchell coach Howard Chittum said.
It starts with pitching. The Mustangs have a staff that is built for tournament weeks. Senior left-hander Mason Miller is the ace. The Florida Gulf Coast commit averages about two strikeouts per inning. But he’s not the only arm.
Senior Adam Bingham can start or relieve and has a fastball that can top 90. Senior Logan Scheu, junior James Hill and sophomore Ashton Crowther have all pitched multiple innings for a staff that had a 1.17 ERA to begin the week.
Add in the fact that Wake Forest commit Jackson Miller, who is the full-time catcher this season, can also pitch if needed and the Mustangs have no shortage of arms.
“Our pitching is excellent," Bingham said. “In my four years this is the best pitching we’ve ever had. If our pitchers are on every game, I don’t see us losing a game."
That may be a stretch, but then again maybe not. Mitchell finished the regular season 25-0 in 2019. Then things fell apart with a district tournament loss to Osceola and a region quarterfinal loss to Braden River to suddenly end the season.
The Mustangs are sure to face some talented teams in this tournament. Land O’ Lakes was also undefeated at 7-0 when the week started. The Gators hit over .300 as a team and the pitching has been just as good as Mitchell’s. Junior Brian Holiday (33 strikeouts in 17 innings) and senior Patrick Groark (19 strikeouts in 14 ⅔ innings) have been mowing down batters.
Pasco was also 7-0 when the week started. The Pirates have been scoring runs in bunches, with 62 in seven games. They also were giving up less than a run a game. While the competition heats up this week, Pasco shouldn’t be overlooked.
Hernando, Nature Coast and Springstead are usually the best teams in Hernando County. That’s pretty much the case again this season. Hernando has already split games with Nature Coast and Weeki Wachee. The Leopards played three games leading into Monday’s tournament opener against Cypress Creek.
“I’d say that either Mitchell or Land O’Lakes would have to be the favorites in this one," Hernando coach Tim Sims said. “We’re playing okay, maybe a little inconsistent. But those two teams are playing really well right now. Howard’s got a really good team down there."
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The Mustangs have played one of the tougher schedules of all the teams in the tournament. They have defeated Northeast, Dunedin, Seminole and East Lake, four of Pinellas County’s better teams.
The lineup is solid, as is the defense.
“We work hard and no matter what we don’t get down on ourselves," Mason Miller said. “Everybody picks up each other."
Farm Bureau Classic
Monday: at Hernando: Land O’Lakes vs. Lecanto, 4 p.m.; Hernando vs. Cypress Creek, 7 p.m.; at Central: Bishop McLaughlin vs. River Ridge, 4; Zephryhills vs. Central, 7; at Weeki Wachee: Weeki Wachee vs. Citrus, 4; Mitchell vs. South Sumter, 7; at Nature Coast: Hudson vs. Springstead, 4; Nature Coast vs. Pasco, 7
Tuesday: Loser’s bracket games, 4 p.m.; winner’s bracket games, 7 p.m. (all four sites)
Wednesday: Semifinals at Hernando and Weeki Wachee, 7 p.m.
Thursday: Rain day
Friday: Final at Weeki Wachee, 7 p.m.