Whether it's called rebuilding or reloading, it's no secret that Hernando High will have a significantly different look to its lineup next spring.
The Leopards graduated nine seniors, including eight regular starters, from a team that made a fourth straight Elite Eight appearance two months ago.
That makes Hernando's entry in the Dixie Pre-Majors (ages 15-16) All-Stars State Tournament at Charles R. Head Field in Avon Park all the more intriguing.
Hernando plays its first game in the double-elimination event today, against Chipley at 9 a.m.
"Our program, with the exception of Austin Treverton, is an inexperienced varsity-level group," said Tim Sims, Hernando High's veteran head coach. "On that particular (Pre-Majors) group, we put more of our JV-level kids.
"That group is kind of feeling their way through it and learning our expectations as coaches on the varsity level. We lost nine and we're basically starting over in the high school season."
Though Sims will surely have an eye on the Pre-Majors, he will personally helm the Hernando Majors (ages 17-19) All-Stars during their state tournament, taking place simultaneously at Head Field.
Hernando has an interesting first-round matchup against a familiar foe, albeit new to Dixie within this age group: Spring Hill. That game starts today at 4:30 p.m.
The Hernando Pre-Majors are coached by Sims' assistant coach on the high school squad, Donnie Whitehead.
His a roster consists of Tanner Bammert, Andres Cabrera, Brad Ellis, David Flowers, Kyle Kilbourne, Pierce Kimbrough, Tyler Ledington, Tyson Libengood, Daniel Miller, Bradley Platt, Cameron Price, Elijah Ramirez, Dustin Ratliff, Austin Treverton and Justin Young.
Treverton and Kilbourne are the only ones who saw significant varsity action with the Leopards this season, both as juniors.
A catcher by trade, Treverton appeared in 22 games, hitting .192 with three doubles and eight runs batted in.
Kilbourne played in 20 games and posted a .227 average with seven RBI. The right-hander made his greatest contribution on the mound, going 3-3 with a 3.42 earned run average across nine appearances.
"We kind of approached this summer a little different," said Whitehead, who spent two seasons as Hernando High's head coach before a four-year stint as an assistant at St. Johns River State College. "We traveled around and played in some travel ball tournaments instead of playing local talent.
"We'll be young next year. We have inexperienced guys at the varsity level and wanted an opportunity to evaluate guys against competition and not just in practice. So far it's been fantastic."
Whitehead, typically a hitting coach, pointed to pitching as the strength of this unit. Kilbourne and the lefty Flowers, limited by injury in the spring, lead the staff along with Ramirez, Miller and Young.
"One thing about this group, we're going to have pitching depth," Whitehead said. "We have some talented young arms and it depends on how quick the learning curve is for them.
"We're a little bit different ballclub than what we've had in the past. We have to execute and catch the baseball and move runners up and play solid ball."
Chipley figures to field most of it varsity high school team, so Whitehead anticipates a stout test right away.
"Now we're going to try to amp up the pressure a little bit and see how guys respond," Whitehead said. "It's not going to be an equal playing time thing. It'll be more like a varsity-game atmosphere.
"Satisfactory to me would be to be competitive every day. In a perfect world we go down there and we're in it late with an opportunity to win. I expected us to go down there and compete and play hard."
The older Hernando group is more of a mix of players still within the program and recent graduates now playing at the college level.
On the team will be Tyler Allen, Gabe Bonilla, Matthew Brady, Robbie Frantzis, Brandon Gemmiti, Brandon Lawson, Brendon Litwinsky, Owen Morgan, William Niethammer, Eloy Ramirez, Trae Ratliff, Garrett Sims, Brooks Timmons and Andrew Zabriskie.
Allen, Bonilla, Litwinsky, Morgan, Niethammer and Sims are the only players still in high school. Brady and Gemmiti were 2012 graduates, while Lawson, Ramirez, Ratliff, Timmons and Zabriskie received their diplomas last month.
Frantzis just graduated from Lakeland High, but his father Pete was a 1981 Springstead grad. He was also a teammate of Tim Sims on the 1981 Hernando Dixie Majors state championship team that went on to finish as runner-up in the World Series.
Like the Pre-Majors, pitching would certainly seem like the strong point of this squad, especially with the USF-bound Lawson and Ratliff, a St. Johns River signee.
Lawson, back from pitching for a United States Specialty Sports Association national team at Prague Baseball Week in the Czech Republic, went 11-0 for the Leopards, allowing six runs (three earned) in 78.2 innings for a 0.27 ERA.
Ratliff proved a valuable second ace, with a 6-2 mark and 2.30 ERA. Ramirez, signed to play with Bishop State College in Mobile, Ala., was also solid, going 4-0 with a 2.13 ERA.
"We've been on the field 13 times in various-type things," Coach Sims said. "They're jelling. We're finding how who wants to play baseball in the summer and improve their skills.
"This is our spring training. We've always used it to work on our weaknesses."
On the other side of the diamond today, Hernando will see some familiar faces. The fledgling Spring Hill club is comprised from players from Central, Nature Coast, Springstead and Weeki Wachee.
Joe Abbadessa brings in this roster: Gabe Abbadessa, Dustin Bauer, Jarred Burns, Jimmy Diven, Ryan Keith, Blake Laferty, Mike Merrill, Will Pagan, Nic Pasarela, Xavier Rodriguez, Danny Schonborn, Tommy Tambasco, Vito Tambasco, Evan Webster and Trent Wyzykowski.
"As always, the first time you do something, you take away a lot of learning opportunity for both the players and coaches," Joe Abbadessa said.
"I don't know that we have a lot in terms of weaknesses. This team has a lot of athleticism and the kids are flexible. We play them in so many different positions and do a lot of things with them."
Diven, Pasarela and Tommy Tambasco were All-County picks as seniors last year. Vito Tambasco just had a strong sophomore season with Nature Coast, hitting .451 and pitching to a 5-6 record and 3.48 ERA.
Abbadessa, though, felt Bauer would pace the pitching staff. With second-year Weeki Wachee, the senior was 0-10 yet had a respectable 3.89 ERA and struck out 51 batters in 54 innings.
Diven saw some action on the mound as a freshman at Warner University.
"I don't know if we have the horses Hernando has, but we've got 9-10 kids we can send to the hill," Coach Abbadessa said.
"The lineup will be pretty decent. I think we'll have a good show of it. I don't see a lot of power in the lineup. We'll put the ball in play a lot. I think we have the ability to play small ball and hopefully execute at a high level."
Still, Abbadessa had realistic expectations as Spring Hill makes its first foray into this competition.
"We go into this as complete underdogs. We've never been there. We don't know what to expect," Abbadesssa said. "There's no pressure. We want to win. If you're going to come out of the gate and play someone, who better than to play a county rival, the godfather of Hernando baseball, a living legend, Tim Sims? You can't ask for more."
Sims believes Heartland, comprised of players from Avon Park and Sebring, is the prohibitive favorite, but hopes Hernando has something to say about that.
"If we pitch to our capabilities and catch to our capabilities, we should be in the mix," Sims said. "I want to see all 14 kids play to their roles to the best extent that day. If they do that, we'll make somebody beat us, we won't beat ourselves."
At a Glance
What - Dixie Majors (ages 17-19) All-Stars State Tournament
Who - Heartland, Hendry County, Hernando, Spring Hill and Wahneta
Where - Charles R. Head Field, Avon Park
When - Today through Wednesday (weather permitting)
At stake - State champion represents Florida in July 27-31 Majors World Series in North Charleston, S.C.
What - Dixie Pre-Majors (ages 15-16) All-Stars State Tournament
Who - Chipley, DeSoto, East Polk, Heartland, Hernando and Okeechobee
Where - Charles R. Head Field, Avon Park
When - Today through Wednesday (weather permitting)
At stake - State champion represents Florida in July 27-31 Majors World Series in North Guntersville, Ala.
Hernando Pre-Majors (ages 15-16) All-Stars
Tanner Bammert 2B/C
Andres Cabrera 1B/3B/P
Brad Ellis UTIL/P
David Flowers 1B/OF/P
Kyle Kilbourne 1B/3B/P
Pierce Kimbrough 1B/P
Tyler Ledington OF
Tyson Libengood OF/P
Daniel Miller INF/P
Bradley Platt UTIL/P
Cameron Price INF
Elijah Ramirez 3B/P
Dustin Ratliff P
Austin Treverton C
Justin Young OF/P
Head coach: Donnie Whitehead
Assistant coaches: Jeff Laing, Tim Sims
Hernando Majors (ages 17-19) All-Stars
Tyler Allen OF
Gabe Bonilla 1B
Matthew Brady 3B/P
Robbie Frantzis INF/P
Brandon Gemmiti UTIL
Brandon Lawson P/OF
Brendon Litwinsky INF
Owen Morgan C/OF
William Niethammer INF
Eloy Ramirez P/OF
Trae Ratliff 3B/P
Garrett Sims OF
Brooks Timmons C/1B
Andrew Zabriskie OF
Head coach: Tim Sims
Assistant coaches: Lee Sullivan, Kenny Treverton
Spring Hill Majors (ages 17-19) All-Stars
Gabe Abbadessa 2B/OF/P
Dustin Bauer P/3B
Jarred Burns OF/P
Jimmy Diven OF/1B/P
Ryan Keith P/1B
Blake Laferty 3B/2B/P/OF
Mike Merrill 3B/OF
Will Pagan P/CF
Nic Pasarela SS/P
Xavier Rodriguez OF
Danny Schonborn 2B/C/OF/P
Tommy Tambasco SS/1B/P/C
Vito Tambasco P/SS/OF
Evan Webster 1B/P/OF
Trent Wyzykowski C
Head coach: Joe Abbadessa
Assistant coaches: Jim Keith, Shawn Laferty