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Monday, Mar 30, 2015

Postseason full of possibilities


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Before the first pitches of this week's district tournaments are even thrown, Hernando County is guaranteed a regional representative.

Someone between Hernando, Central and Nature Coast will still be playing Friday in the Class 5A, District 7 Tournament final.

The fourth-seeded Bears (16-9) host the fifth-seeded Sharks (11-12) Tuesday at 7 p.m. in a quarterfinal. The winner takes on the top-seeded Leopards (21-4) in Wednesday's semifinals at Zephyrhills.

Aside from the Central-Nature Coast contest, the rest of the tournament will take place at Zephyrhills, including Friday's championship game at 7 p.m.

Hernando has won three district crowns in the past four years, advancing to at least the Elite Eight each of those seasons.

Even with an almost entirely new starting lineup and rebuilt pitching staff, the Leopards went a perfect 12-0 in 5A-7 action.

However, Hernando did fall to third-seeded Pasco in the Pasco-Hernando Farm Bureau Insurance Classic last month, 2-1, before the Pirates went down to Central in the title game, 5-4 in 12 innings.

"I think it's wide open," Central head coach Al Sorrentino said. "Obviously Hernando hasn't lost a game yet, so they've got to be the favorite. But everyone has played each other tough at one time or another."

Perhaps no team is a better example of the unpredictable nature of 5A-7 than the Bears. They lost 6-2 to Pasco only a few weeks before besting the Pirates during the spring break tournament, then won at Dade City exactly two weeks later, 6-5.

Central opened the season defeating second-seeded Wesley Chapel, 13-3, then fell to the Wildcats on March 7, 2-1.

Then there's the season series with Nature Coast. The Bears cruised to a 10-0 victory over the Sharks on Feb. 25. On March 27, though, Nature Coast turned the tables with an 8-0 triumph behind Chris Lake's two-hit, 13-strikeout performance on the mound.

That makes Tuesday's matchup so intriguing. Lake (7-1, 3.22 earned run average), a senior right-hander signed with Division II Flagler, could go up against the Bears' ace left-hander, senior Trevor McKenna (7-4, 1.90 ERA).

McKenna has already faced Nature Coast twice this season, tossing a complete game one-hitter over six innings in the first meeting before permitting four runs across four frames in the most recent game.

"I've got my number one on the mound. If (Nature Coast coach Mike Ellison) starts Lake, he's a very good pitcher," Sorrentino said. "When he beat us at our place, that was part of that first week back (from spring break) and we were not very focused. We didn't have good at-bats and didn't put up much of a fight against him."

The Bears strangely lost four of five coming off the Farm Bureau Classic, and Sorrentino said it "seemed like we were hung over" after winning that event.

Central ended the regular season with three straight victories and Sorrentino believes the Bears have refocused on the task at hand.

"Yeah, we won 16 games, but if you're 0-25 or 25-0, it doesn't mean a darn thing," Sorrentino said. "I've said all along, our success or failure depends on making the (regional) playoffs. And if we do that, we'll probably have to go through the best two pitchers in the county."

Sorrentino was referring to Lake, and potentially Hernando senior right-hander Kyle Kilbourne (7-0, 0.62 ERA).

With the Leopards benefitting from a first-round bye, they'll have a full complement of pitchers from a crew that posted a combined 1.61 ERA and 160 strikeouts across 148 innings over the team's first 22 games.

Behind Kilbourne, senior lefty David Flowers has been a more than solid No. 2 starter at 7-1 with a 1.44 ERA.

Thus far Hernando has combined that pitching with an opportunistic offense, paced by senior catcher Austin Treverton (.444, 13 doubles, 12 runs batted in) and junior Justin Young (.342, two home runs, 21 RBI).

On the other side of the bracket, Wesley Chapel takes on seventh-seeded Weeki Wachee (1-19) Tuesday at 4 p.m., and Pasco battles sixth-seeded Zephyrhills at 7 p.m.

Wednesday's semifinals will also be at 4 and 7 p.m., with matchups to be determined.

? ? ?

Springstead (11-13) enters the 6A-10 Tournament seeded second, and will host the third seed Mitchell Wednesday at 7 p.m.

"We've beaten some very good teams this year," said Springstead head coach Jim Diven, citing victories over Wiregrass Ranch and Bishop McLaughlin. "We've played some very good teams. And we've gotten killed by a few teams.

"The bottom line, it boils down to pitching. Our pitchers are rested and if we have a couple of good pitching outings, we can beat anybody."

Sophomore right-hander Miguel Martinez has emerged as an ace despite a modest 3-2 mark, posting a 1.37 ERA.

He could get the ball against the Mustangs, who the Eagles defeated in their only meeting of the season, 10-6 at Springstead on April 8.

Mitchell senior Cobi Johnson, an FSU signee, hasn't pitched in a month due to a shoulder/arm injury, so the Eagles figure to catch a break in missing him on the mound.

"If he's available (to pitch), it's tough to beat them," Diven said. "We have to play defense the way we normally play. When we start to lose, it seems like we give up defensively. All of sudden we wind up with a bunch of errors."

With a win the Eagles, coming off a district title and trip to the Elite Eight in 2013, would travel to Seminole-Osceola for Friday's championship game at 7 p.m.

On Wednesday, top-seeded Osceola hosts the winner of Tuesday's matchup pitting fifth-seeded Largo at fourth-seeded St. Petersburg-Dixie Hollins.

Possessing a fairly inexperienced roster and placed in a district featuring a heavy amount of travel, Diven admits it's tough to compare this group to last year's squad.

"I'd have been happy with a winning record. That would have been successful for me this year," Diven said. "But if we come out of this thing and play Osceola and play a good game against them for the district championship, and we end up as runners-up, I think that'll be successful. Winning the district would be tremendously successful for us."

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At a Glance

What - Class 5A, District 7 Tournament

Who - No. 1 Hernando, No. 2 Wesley Chapel, No. 3 Pasco, No. 4 Central, No. 5 Nature Coast, No. 6 Zephyrhills and No. 7 Weeki Wachee

Where - Zephyrhills High, 6335 12th St, Zephyrhills (Central hosts Nature Coast on Tuesday)

When - Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday

At Stake - District championship and berth for the top two teams in 5A-Region II quarterfinals on April 30.

What - Class 6A, District 10 Tournament

Who - No. 1 seed Seminole-Osceola, No. 2 Springstead, No. 3 Mitchell, No. 4 St. Petersburg-Dixie Hollins and No. 5 Largo

Where - First two rounds at higher seed, final at Osceola High, 9751 98th St. North, Seminole

When - Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday

At Stake - District championship and berth for the top two teams in 6A-Region III quarterfinals on May 1.

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