Controversy consumed last summer’s first-ever Dixie Boys Baseball 15-Under State Tournament at Springstead High.
Mother Nature’s torrential rains forced a semifinal and final not to be completed.
As a result, Dixie officials decided – to the dismay of many local fans – on an orthodox tie for the state title between Anthony DiSciascio’s Spring Hill team and Winter Haven.
Both teams advanced to the Region I Tournament (there is no World Series for this age group) in Ozark, Ala., where the Polk County squad won the event.
Twelve months later, five area teams will attempt to dethrone host Polk County beginning today at the Bartow Park (555) Sports Complex.
The second-year event is expected to feature: Hernando County (aka Hernando High’s JV baseball team), the Brooksville Bullets (a collection of players from seven high schools), Spring Hill ‘A’ (mostly 14 year olds), Spring Hill ‘B’ (mostly Springstead’s JV), San Antonio and host Polk County.
Weather-permitting, each of the six teams will play two games between today and Saturday before being seeded prior to Sunday’s third round. Each team is guaranteed three games.
The state champion advances to the U-15 Region I Tournament again at Ozark, Ala. while the state runner-up advances to the Region II Tournament in Charleston, S.C. Both tourneys begin June 19.
Rarely do any Dixie baseball all-star teams have the combined resumes of the current Hernando County 15-U squad. All 13 players played in All-Star competitions last summer.
Hernando’s team features: shortstop Morgan Ashton, first baseman Ryan Becker, pitcher/third baseman Scotty Bierwiler, pitcher/infielder Kyle Bonak, pitcher/catcher Patrick Dresser, pitcher/infielder Clay Everett, pitcher/outfielder Logan Flood, pitcher/outfielder Carson Foradas, pitcher/infielder Cameron Price, pitcher/infielder Travis Ritter, infielder Logan Ross, pitcher/first baseman Trevor Vendrone and catcher Sam Vidal.
Hernando High’s assistant baseball coach Jeff Laing will guide this age group for the second straight season, assisted by Lee Sullivan.
Dating back to 2001, Laing is a combined 7-14 as a Dixie baseball mentor. He led the Leopard JV team to back-to-back season-ending tournament titles in 2013-14.
Overall, Laing’s 2014 Purple and Gold squad finished 15-3. Offensively, Everett hit .353, followed by Flood (.341) and Ritter (.321).
Laing, a University of Central Florida product, is comfortable with this group. He knows the kids and believes this group will be solid defensively beginning with his catcher Dresser, second sacker Price and shortstop Ashton.
On the hill, Ritter is again looked at as his team’s top hurler. Ritter went 4-1 overall, tossing 42 strikeouts in 24 innings pitched while restricting opposing batters to a .227 batting average.
“A tournament like this is an opportunity for some of the kids who were behind the sophomores on the JV team to get some playing time,” noted Laing, who guided the 2000 and 2006 Hernando Pre-Majors (ages 15-16) to state runners-up finishes.
Hernando will open at 8:15 p.m. against the defending champions from Polk County. Its second game is set for 3 p.m. Saturday against Spring Hill A.
Though other coaches have picked Hernando as one of the tourney favorites, “To me, this is almost like a whole new season,” declared Laing. “We’re starting out brand new.”
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The Brooksville Bullets arrive as one the tourney’s wild cards.
The Bullets’ skipper is no stranger to youth baseball. Bruce Price enters the event behind an outstanding 34-15 won-lost slate (.694) in Dixie All-Star action.
Price’s teams have collected three district titles. Only one other Brooksville mentor, Gerald Johnson with four, has collected more since the millennium.
In that same span, covering 147 Dixie baseball coaches, Price has collected the most district victories (26).
For all his success, Price is 8-8 in state competitions and is seeking his first-ever state title. Price will be assisted by Steve Harbuck and Stacy Rodriguez.
The Bullets roster features: right fielder Jonathan Allion, pitcher/third baseman Kestler Harbuck, shortstop/pitcher Jamie Henry, pitcher/left fielder Dylan McMahon, pitcher/third baseman Miguel Martinez, catcher Casey Moore, pitcher/third baseman Max Plager, left fielder Chris Quarnata, pitcher/first baseman Marcus Rodriguez, pitcher/center fielder Cameron Sereda, left fielder/third baseman Kobe Simon, second baseman Jeff Sutton, left fielder Raymond Tibbs and pitcher/third baseman Kevin Tomas.
Price’s players represent seven prep programs: South Sumter, Lake Minneola, Weeki Wachee, Nature Coast Technical, Central, Hernando and Springstead.
Price’s son, Cameron Price, is not playing for him – opting instead to play for Coach Laing’s club.
“I don’t have a horse in this race, but I’m doing this to give back to the kids,” admitted Coach Price. “I’ve been doing this for 17 years. I try to teach the game of baseball as much as possible.”
In analyzing his club, Price likes his team’s heart. He believes this isn’t a collection of long-ball hitters, but rather an athletic team.
Price insists Martinez is “Our number one (pitcher) and the rest are three, fours. Harbuck can pitch, too. We’re fortunate to have three lefties (McMahon, Sereda and Rodriguez). After Martinez, none of these guys are going to blow you away, but we’re preaching that they have to limit their mistakes.”
The Bullets open play at 9 a.m. Saturday against Spring Hill B before tackling Spring Hill A at 1 p.m.
“We’ll be happy to win a game,” insisted Price. “With so few practices, we could be behind the 8-ball.”
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Veteran Dixie skipper Shawn Laferty returns to the dugout to guide the fortunes of the Spring Hill B team.
Laferty, who was let go by Springstead despite a collective 60-6 (.909) mark at the junior varsity level the past three seasons, arrives with distinguished credentials.
Since the millennium, Laferty is the Hernando County Dixie Baseball leader in games coached (74), overall wins (55), state wins (26), district titles (four, tied with Jim Keith and Johnson), state championships (three) and World Series victories (four).
This weekend will mark his seventh state tournament.
Though Laferty’s 14 year olds finished 1-2 in this event last summer, they rebounded to collect the Senior Boys District 6 crown in Brooksville and followed with a state title in Highlands County.
Laferty will assisted by Steve Delgatto.
The team features: shortstop/pitcher Stephen Bienstock, outfielder/pitcher/catcher Dakota Blevens, pitcher/outfielder Robert Bunyon, outfielder/pitcher/shorstop/catcher Joey Delgatto, outfielder/second baseman/third baseman Joe Harris, second baseman/outfielder/pitcher/catcher Luke Laferty, outfielder/pitcher Brett Maharaj, first baseman/pitcher Dominic Marrone, catcher/outfielder Nick Nguyen, second baseman/outfielder/pitcher Bodhi Sbashnig and third baseman/pitcher Brendan Sessa, Nine All-Stars are back from last season including: Bienstock, Blevens, Bunyon, Delgatto, Laferty, Maharaj, Marrone, Nguyen and Sbashnig.
Huge pieces of Spring Hill’s success from 2013 are missing, slugger Paul Coumoulos (opting to play travel ball), Noah Siem (not playing) and Zach Lawrence (concentrating on football).
On the rubber, Spring Hill’s title chances are enhanced behind workhorse Bunyon, Maharaj and the emergence of Bienstock.
“Bunyon is our clear number one and without Noah (Siem), we’ll have to rely on some other guys,” insisted Laferty. “Blevens, Delgatto and Sessa could all pitch, too. Sessa has been quite a surprise for us so far.”
Without the long-ball threat Coumoulous, Coach Laferty expects his team to predominantly gap hit behind Bienstock, Delgatto, Marrone and Luke Laferty.
Spring Hill B opens at 9 a.m. Saturday against the Bullets before facing San Antonio at 11 a.m.
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Similar to Laferty’s team, Spring Hill A has eight members who played on the District 6 Junior Boys (age 13) title team in 2013.
The team features: catcher/center fielder Ryan Betz, catcher/pitcher Dakota Blevens, pitcher/first baseman Reagan Chapman, left fielder/second baseman/pitcher Brennan Cross, second baseman/pitcher Michael Ebberup Jr., right fielder/pitcher Zachary Funkhouser, pitcher/center fielder John P. “J.P.” Gates, catcher/pitcher Max Glenn, second baseman/catcher John Moran, shortstop/pitcher Dalton Mosser, third baseman/pitcher John Oliveira, first baseman/left fielder Domenick Rado and left fielder/pitcher Nick Vastano.
Spring Hill’s eight returning All-Stars include: Blevens, Chapman, Ebberup, Funkhouser, Gates, Mosser, Oliveira and Rado.
First-year skipper Mike Rado will be assisted by Patrick Freeman, Will Glenn and Randy Mosser.
Coach Rado described his ball club in glowing terms as very talented and extremely versatile with several players having the ability to play different positions.
Rado added that besides his overall team speed, his 13-man roster features a lot of good character kids, who want to do things the right way.
Contrasting to last year’s 13-year-old District 6 champions, “This team has a lot of good chemistry,” insisted Rado. “That was something that was lacking last year. This group never gets down; I’d say they’re extremely resilient.”
On the bump, Coach Rado anoints Gates as his clear number one, with Mosser and Oliveira battling for number two, and Ebberup, Chapman and Vastano behind them.
Rado’s lineup will most likely feature two speedsters: the left-handed hitting Glenn and Mosser, followed by a combination of left-swinging Gates, Oliveira and Funkhouser.
Spring Hill A debuts at 1 p.m. Saturday against the Bullets before facing Hernando County at 3 p.m.
“We don’t know much about the first two teams, but a lot of our kids know the other kids who are playing,” explained Coach Rado.
As far as the teams to beat, Rado chose Polk County and Laferty’s B team.
“Polk County won this last year and Laferty’s teams are usually right there at the end,” noted Coach Rado.
Pointing out his team’s goal, “Initially it was to gain some experience before we venture into the Senior Boys Tournament,” stressed Coach Rado. “I have high expectation for this group. I think we’ll be tough outs. If we play the way we’re capable, they could win this.
“We’ve got a dugout full of fighters,” emphasized Rado. “This team doesn’t get down no matter what happens. It’s a gritty bunch. I’d love to see us in the championship game.”
At a Glance
What – Dixie Boys Baseball 15-U State Tournament.
Who – Six teams in a double-elimination format featuring: Brooksville Bullets, Hernando County, Polk County, Spring Hill A and Spring Hill B.
Where – Bartow Park (555) Sports Complex, 850 County Road, Bartow.
When – Friday through Sunday (weather permitting)
At Stake – State champion advances to the Region I Tournament at Ozark, Ala. while the state runner-up advances to the Region II Tournament in Charleston, S.C. Both tourneys begin June 19.
Hernando County 15-U All-Stars
Morgan Ashton* SS
Ryan Becker* 1B
Scotty Bierwiler* P/3B
Kyle Bonak* P/INF
Patrick Dresser* P/C
Clay Everett* P/INF
Logan Flood* P/OF
Carson Foradas* P/OF
Cameron Price* P/INF
Travis Ritter* P/INF
Logan Ross* INF
Trevor Vendrone* P/1B
Sam Vidal* C
* Returning All-Star
Head Coach – Jeff Laing
Assistant Coach – Lee Sullivan
Brooksville Bullets 15-U All-Stars
NO. NAME POSITIONS
1 Chris Quarnata LF
3 Casey Moore C
5 Jeff Sutton 2B
6 Dylan McMahon P/LF
7 Jamie Henry SS/P
10 Marcus Rodriguez P/1B
10 Max Plager P/3B
18 Raymond Tibbs LF
20 Miguel Martinez P/3B
23 Kobe Simon LF/3B
25 Kestler Harbuck P/3B
27 Cameron Sereda P/CF
28 Kevin Tomas P/3B
35 Jonathan Allion RF
Head Coach – Bruce Price
Assistant Coach – Steve Harbuck
Assistant Coach – Stacy Rodriguez
Spring Hill A 15-U All-Stars
NO. NAME POSITIONS
2 Dalton Mosser* SS/P
4 Michael Ebberup Jr.* 2B/P
9 Ryan Betz C/CF
15 John Oliveira* 3B/P
16 Nick Vastano LF/P
18 Brennan Cross LF/2B/P
21 John P. “JP” Gates* P/CF
25 Zachary Funkhouser* RF/P
27 Domenick Rado* 1B/LF
30 Reagan Chapman* P/1B
38 Dakota Blevens* C/P
42 John Moran 2B/C
44 Max Glenn C/P
* Returning All-Star
Head Coach – Mike Rado
Assistant Coach –Patrick Freeman
Assistant Coach – Will Glenn
Assistant Coach – Randy Mosser
Spring Hill B 15-U All-Stars
NO. NAME POSITIONS
1 Stephen Bienstock* SS/P
2 Bodhi Sbashnig* 2B/OF/P
3 Luke Laferty* 2B/OF/P/C
5 Joey Delgatto* OF/P/SS/C
7 Brendan Sessa 3B/P
8 Brett Maharaj* OF/P
10 Joe Harris OF/2B/3B
13 Robert Bunyon* P/OF
22 Dakota Blevens* OF/P/C
25 Dominic Marrone* 1B/P
28 Nick Nguyen* C/OF
* Returning All-Star
Head Coach – Shawn Laferty
Assistant Coach – Steve Delgatto