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Tuesday, Mar 03, 2015

Rookies kick off All-Star season

Hernando Today correspondent


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Nine area teams – representing four counties (Pasco, Hernando, Lake and Sumter) – will take part in Saturday’s opening day of the Dixie AA Rookies (ages 7-8) District 6 Baseball Tournament at Bushnell’s Kenny Dixon Sports Complex.

The weeklong tourney (weather permitting) features a double-elimination format.

The field is expected to consist of Brooksville, Ridge Manor, South Lake, Spring Hill American, Spring Hill National, Wesley Chapel American, Wesley Chapel National, Wildwood and host Bushnell.

The district champion and district runner-up advance to the June 28 Florida State Dixie Rookies State Championship in Marianna.

The third-place team may also advance at the discretion of state tournament director.

Wesley Chapel Royal went 5-0 last summer at home to sweep this event while Spring Hill’s American and National squads finished second and third.

Though seven seasons have passed since Spring Hill American claimed its last District 6 title under Tony Siem (5-0), many area coaches believe this current nine has the ability to reach next Friday night’s scheduled district championship.

This year’s 12-member club features: second baseman Brendan Anderson, pitcher Cody Bishop, shortstop Riley Blevens, pitcher Blake Byrne, right fielder Isaiah Burgess, left fielder Travis Clark, outfielder/third baseman Michael Dresendorfer, first baesman Nicholas Franklin, catcher Nathan Marsh, center fielder Hunter Richardson, third baseman Domenic Stone and second baseman Andrew Ward.

Veteran youth baseball mentor Larry Marsh will guide the SH American nine assisted by Vince Anderson, Lee Clark and Joe Ward.

The roster is punctuated with five returning All-Stars from 2013 featuring: Franklin (Rookies), and Bishop, Clark, Richardson and Ward (T-Ball).

The 2013 Spring Hill T-Ball All-Star squad stood out not only because it was the league’s first ever at that level, but more importantly reached the T-Ball state championship game in Sebring. Loaded Wildwood Blue won the title, 17-11.

In a last-minute roster move, catcher Alex Rodriguez, who suffered a broken wrist this week, was replaced by the first alternate, Dresendorfer.

Marsh has served as a youth baseball skipper for 34 seasons including 24 years as a Little League coach and the last 10 with Spring Hill Dixie Baseball.

He’s very pleased with how the team has jelled so quickly. He added that there were no unsteady positions on his roster.

Addressing his pitching, “We have very good depth. We’ve got all but two kids who could pitch,” indicated Marsh. “I’d say we have five number ones – that’s five guys I could hand the ball to and ask them to win us a game.

“We emphasize to our pitchers that you don’t have try and strike everyone out. That we’ve got eight guys behind our pitchers trying to make plays. We ask our pitchers to do one thing: throw strikes, strikes and strikes.”

Cody Bishop will get the opening start at 11 a.m. against Brooksville.

“Cody’s got a little pop,” described Marsh. “But he’s in there because he’s our most consistent strike thrower.”

At the plate, SH American will open its lineup with the fleet-footed Burgess and Ryan Marsh.

Those two are the table-setters prior to Stone, Blevens, Byrne and Dresendorfer.

Speed-wise, “Eleven of our 12 kids can fly,” added Marsh, embracing his team’s perceived ability to run the bases.

Defensively, Marsh expects Blevens to anchor shortstop with Anderson holding down second.

On Anderson, “He makes a lot of ESPN moments,” noted Marsh. “He makes plays I couldn’t believe he’d get to. He complements Blevens real well.”

Marsh says of first sacker Franklin, “Nothing gets by him. He scoops the ball so well.”

Look for Stone to reside at the hot corner.

In the outfield, on Richardson anchoring center field, “Was a little timid initially, but he’s a versatile player; someone we really need out there.”

On the importance of surviving the opening game against archrival Brooksville, “I try to make the game fun. I don’t emphasize wins,” declared Marsh. “If the kids play to the best of their abilities, the wins will come.”

Marsh didn’t tiptoe past the question of whether SH American has the ability to play for the district championship.

“When I first got this job, I congratulated the board of directors and told them I’d be honored to serve as manager,” recalled Marsh. “I told them I’ll see you at states.”

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Two summers ago, Spring Hill National skipper Eric Smith guided the West Hernando County club to its first-ever District 6 title.

This time, Smith along with Keith Clearwater and Shane Thompson will assist skipper John McMurdo. McMurdo’s 2013 squad finished tied for third at 3-2 in the 11-team district event at Wesley Chapel.

This year’s SH National All-Stars features: outfielder/pitcher Jacob Barnum, outfielder/catcher Hunter Bishop, shortstop/second baseman/pitcher Ryan Clearwater, third baseman/first baseman/pitcher Carlos Gonzalez, outfield/third baseman/pitcher Raymond Groetsch, outfielder/catcher/pitcher James “J.J.” Hackett, outfielder/pitcher Brandon Higgins, catcher/outfielder/pitcher Zachary Hotop, second baseman/first baseman/pitcher Brady McMurdo, outfielder Hunter Pye, first baseman/third baseman/catcher/pitcher Tanner Smith and pitcher/shortstop Rylan Thompson.

Coach McMurdo’s roster is sprinkled with seven returning All-Stars including: Barnum, Groetsch, Higgins, Hotop and Brady McMurdo (T-Ball) alongside Gonzalez and Thompson (Rookies).

Painting broad strokes, Coach McMurdo called his team scrappy. He added that physically this wasn’t a very big team, but rather extremely quick.

In comparing this year’s team to last year’s squad, he noted that the present team has some natural outfielders – not just the typical 12 drafted infielders, some of whom get converted to man the outfield.

SH National’s biggest strength may lie on the mound.

“We have experience on the mound,” insisted McMurdo. “We’ve got 10 kids who could pitch for us and four that I’d call starters, and six who could come off the bench and get us through an inning or two.

“Our emphasis is to throw strikes,” expressed McMurdo. “And let the defense play. There’s no defense for walks, so our guys have to stay on top of their pitches.”

McMurdo has a glowing review of his defense, particularly his infield, saying, “I love our infield. We have so many interchangeable parts it’s scary between our pitchers and our infielders – it’ a nice problem to have.

“At shortstop and second base we’re three-deep, and we have four catchers – who can all start.”

According to McMurdo, look for Hotop to start Saturday behind the plate while Clearwater and Thompson may split time at shortstop while McMurdo and Bishop share duties at second base.

First-base duties will go to Smith and Gonzalez while Gonzalez and Thompson will do the same at third.

“I’m excited about the outfield,” said McMurdo, “with Barnum in center, Bishop in left and Higgins in right.”

Offensively, Hackett, who has the most speed and is considered the team’s best contact hitter, will lead off followed by Clearwater, Thompson, Gonzalez and Smith.

“The middle of our order can change a game,” emphasized McMurdo. “I’m amazed, how well this team as a whole can run the bases.”

SH National drew host and always-tough Bushnell to open the event at 11 a.m. Saturday.

“We have to approach this game like a Game 7 of the World Series,” stressed McMurdo. “It’s almost a must-win game. Bushnell’s not hosting this tournament unless they think they’ve got the goods.

“We look at Game 1 as a way to make a statement,” added McMurdo. “It’ll definitely be a challenge, but one I’m excited about.”

The SH National skipper didn’t duck on whether his squad has the ability to go the distance.

“I definitely think we have the ability to be there,” said McMurdo. “Last year, we had a real young team and the expectations weren’t as high.

“With five T-Ballers up from last year’s state final, this team is young, but I like what I see,” McMurdo said. “I’ve surrounded myself with great coaches and a bunch of scrappy players who have been there; that’s a great combination. Nothing but good things could happen.”

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There’s a distinct correlation between the previous Brooksville Rookies teams and the present age.

When the league was bigger, Brooksville’s Hernando Youth League (HYL) Rookies fielded two squads in this age group.

Gerald Johnson’s 2002 and 2003 HYL American All-Stars captured back-to-back titles behind a combined 10-0 won-lost slate. Bruce Price’s HYL National went 5-0 in 2006.

But since the league dropped to one team in 2007, the Brooksville nine has been shutout from any District 6 Rookies titles.

This year, Brooksville had 44 Rookies to choose its All-Star squad from.

This season’s Brooksville nine features a 12-man roster: infielder/outfielder James Bishop, infielder/outfielder Colten Cloud, catcher/outfielder Westin Fenimore, infielder/pitcher Bryce Finley, infielder/pitcher/outfielder Michael Garland, infielder/pitcher Braden Harmon, infielder/outfielder/pitcher Ryan Miller, infielder/pitcher Mason Morgan, outfielder/infielder/pitcher Palmer Looper, infielder Kaden Plummer, infielder/outfielder Derek Portuondo and outfielder/catcher Xander Turner.

Former Hernando High standout and St. Louis Cardinals farmhand Eddie Looper will guide the team. Looper guided this same age group to a 1-2 won-lost slate in 2011.

Looper will be assisted by Sean Harmon, Frank Miller and Ron Morgan.

The Brooksville roster includes six players who were T-Ball All-Stars in 2013: Bishop, Cloud, Harmon, Morgan, Portuondo (with Ridge Manor) and Turner.

Brooksville’s best days may lie ahead behind seven 7 year olds.

“We’re extremely young,” noted Looper. “Going from hitting the ball off a tee to facing live pitching and guys stealing bases is completely different.”

On the learning curve, Looper admitted that his coaches are trying to teach the game, but the kids have to come in prepared and focused.

Unlike the two Spring Hill teams, Brooksville is pitching-thin.

“We have two guys who can throw the ball across the plate, but I know the competition and there are some good teams out,” insisted Looper. “We really don’t have anyone who stands out (on the mound).”

Offensively, Looper hopes his 8 year olds including Garland, Fenimore, Plummer and left-handed hitting Portuondo “will step up, taking off some of the weight from our younger kids.”

Defensively, Looper explained that the Brooksville All-Stars must play fundamental ball and make the routine plays; otherwise it could be a long tournament, especially without dominant pitching.

“We have to play as perfect a game as we can,” emphasized Looper. “But baseball is weird; anybody can beat anybody on any given day.”

Looper forecasts Bushnell, Wesley Chapel and Spring Hill as the teams to beat.

On the prospects of opening against SH American, “I know the kids will be real nervous, but all I ask them to do is play the best they can,” Looper said. “If anyone makes a mistake, it’s not the end of the world; nor will it be anyone’s last mistake. We’ve got to go out and play hard. Getting that first-game win would be huge for us.”

❖ ❖ ❖

Like Brooksville, Ridge Manor is limited by its current numbers at the Rookies level. The East Hernando County program chose its 12-man team from a pool of 23 players.

Newly installed league director Derek Saltsman is doubling as the Rookies skipper this season.

Saltsman will be assisted by Robert Liddington, Steve Sumner Jr. and Robert Dearing.

This year’s Ridge Manor Rookies All-Stars feature: first baseman/outfielder/pitcher Jasmine Avant, outfielder/second baseman Aidan Fields, second baseman/pitcher/outfielder/catcher Junior Florez, outfielder/third baseman Wyatt Gant, outfielder/third baseman/second baseman M.J. Haimes, outfielder/first baseman Kiko Johnson, shortstop/outfielder/catcher Ashton Liddington, pitcher/catcher/third baseman Bryce Saltsman, third baseman/pitcher/catcher/outfielder Michael Saltsman, outfielder/second baseman Bubba Stosh, catcher/outfielder/second baseman Tripp Sumner and outfielder/pitcher/second baseman Ryan Thomas.

Liddington, Bryce Saltsman, Stosh and Sumner are returning All-Stars from last season.

Similar to Brooksville, Ridge Manor is also extremely young with one 6 year old and five 7 year olds.

“We’re behind the curve on the mound,” indicated Saltsman, whose regular-season play was dominated by machine-pitch. “Our biggest weakness is our lack of depth and the ability to throw strikeouts. Pitching-wise we’re going in as extreme underdogs.”

Coach Saltsman ranks his defense as fair and his team’s perceived biggest strength at the infield corners.

At the plate, look for Bryce Saltsman, Liddington and ultra-quick Avant to set the pace.

Ridge Manor opens at 9 a.m. Saturday against one the tourney favorites, Wesley Chapel American.

“I see Wesley Chapel, Spring Hill and Bushnell as the favorites,” forecasted Saltsman. “Those guys are the powerhouses – they’re the SEC and we’re the ACC.”

“We’re going out there Saturday to have fun. The primary focus at this age is to teach the game of baseball and have a good time doing it,” explained Coach Saltsman.

At a Glance

What – Dixie Youth League AA Rookies (ages 7-8) District 6 Baseball Tournament.

Who – Nine teams in a double-elimination format featuring: Brooksville, Ridge Manor, South Lake, Spring Hill American, Spring Hill National, Wesley Chapel American, Wesley Chapel National, Wildwood and host Bushnell.

Where – Kenny Dixon Sports Complex, 824 W. Noble Ave., Bushnell.

When – Saturday through next Friday (weather permitting).

At Stake – District champion and district runner-up advance to the June 28 Florida State Championship at Marianna. Third-place team may advance to states at the discretion of state tournament director.

2013 District 6 AA Rookies (ages 7-8) Tourney Standings

at Wesley Chapel’s District Park


1. Wesley Chapel Royal* 5 0 1.000 67 06

2. Spring Hill American* 4 2 .667 71 40

3. Spring Hill National 3 2 .600 56 36

3. Bushnell 3 2 .600 56 16

5 Wesley Chapel Navy 2 2 .500 51 20

6. Wesley Chapel Blue 1 2 .333 29 52

6. South Lake 1 2 .333 25 46

6. Brooksville-HYL 1 2 .333 13 24

9. San Antonio 0 2 .000 09 30

9. Wesley Chapel Red 0 2 .000 04 34

9. Ridge Manor 0 2 .000 04 50

TOTALS 20 20 .500

* Denotes qualified for AA Rookies State Tournament at Wildwood.

2014 Brooksville AA Rookies (ages 7-8) All-Stars


1 Palmer Looper OF/INF/P

3 Ryan Miller INF/OF/P

5 Westin Fenimore C/OF

7 Xander Turner* OF/C

9 Bryce Finley INF/P

10 Colten Cloud* INF/OF

11 Braden Harmon* INF/P

42 James Bishop* INF/OF

44 Mason Morgan* INF/P

55 Derek Portuondo* INF/OF

96 Kaden Plummer INF

99 Michael Garland INF/P/OF

* Denotes returning all-star.

Head Coach – Eddie Looper

Asst. Coach – Frank Miller

Asst. Coach – Sean Harmon

Asst. Coach – Ron Morgan

By the numbers: Brooksville AA Rookies District 6 Results (2001-13)

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


2001A 2 2 .500 Mike Walker

2001N 3 2 .600 Gus Harrison

2002A 5$ 0 1.000 Gerald Johnson

2002N 2 2 .500 Rich McDermott

2003A 5$ 0 1.000 Gerald Johnson

2003N 1 2 .333 Steve Palma

2004A 1 2 .333 Kevin Kilbourne

2004N 2 2 .500 Sean Edwards

2005A 2 2 .500 Kevin Kilbourne

2005N 1 2 .333 Steve Mitko

2006A 2 2 .500 Jim Kimbrough

2006N 5$ 0 1.000 Bruce Price

2007 3 2 .667 Bruce Price

2008 2 2 .500 Mark Griffith

2009 4 2 .667 Tom Williams

2010 3 2 .600 Steve Piermatteo

2011 1 2 .333 Eddie Looper

2012 0 2 .000 Wes VanAlstine

2013 1 2 .333 Kevin Bittinger

TOTALS 45 32 .584 —16—

$ Denotes District 6 Champions

2014 Spring Hill American AA Rookies (ages 7-8) All-Stars


1 Hunter Richardson* CF

2 Nathan Marsh C

3 Brendan Anderson 2B

5 Isaiah Burgess RF

10 Riley Blevens SS

14 Blake Byrne P

18 Cody Bishop* P

19 Nicholas Franklin* 1B

26 Michael Dresendorfer OF/3B

35 Travis Clark* LF

81 Domenic Stone 3B

99 Andrew Ward* 2B

* Denotes returning all-star

Head Coach – Larry Marsh

Asst. Coach – Vince Anderson

Asst. Coach – Lee Clark

Asst. Coach – Joe Ward

By the numbers: Spring Hill American AA Rookies District 6 Results (2001-13)

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


2001 0 0 .000 NO TEAM

2002 3 2 .600 Lou DeVico

2003 2 2 .500 Jim Keith

2004$ 5 0 1.000 Jim Keith

2005 1 2 .333 Shawn Laferty

2006 1 2 .333 Gary Myers

2007$ 5 0 1.000 Tony Siem

2008 1 2 .333 Manny Voda

2009 3 2 .600 Alan Blevens

2010 0 2 .000 Joe Molka

2011 3 2 .600 Bill Rodriguez

2012 2 2 .500 Mike Bergantino

2013 4 2 .667 Kip Fleming

TOTALS 30 20 .600 —11—

$ Denotes District 6 Champions

2014 Spring Hill National AA Rookies (ages 7-8) All-Stars


00 Tanner Smith 1B/3B/C/P

02 Zachary Hotop* C/1B/OF/P

03 Brady McMurdo* 2B/1B/P

04 Hunter Pye OF

07 Jacob Barnum* OF/P

13 Hunter Bishop OF/C

18 Raymond Groetsch* OF/3B/P

20 Rylan Thompson* P/SS

22 Ryan Clearwater SS/2B/P

33 James “JJ” Hackett OF/C/P

34 Carlos Gonzalez* 3B/1B/P

99 Brandon Higgins* OF/P

* Denotes returning all-star

Head Coach – John McMurdo

Asst. Coach – Keith Clearwater

Asst. Coach – Eric Smith

Asst. Coach – Shane Thompson

By the numbers: Spring Hill National AA Rookies District 6 Results (2001-13)

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


2001 0 0 .000 NO TEAM

2002 0 2 .000 Rob Taylor

2003 2 2 .500 David Smith

2004 0 2 .000 Ron Foust

2005 3 2 .600 Howie Woop

2006 3 2 .600 Mike Lemberth

2007 2 2 .500 Stacy Rodriguez

2008 2 2 .500 Frank Pastorelli

2009 0 2 .000 Richie Russell

2010 2 2 .500 Joe Abbadessa

2011 4 2 .667 Chuck Novick Sr.

2012$ 6 0 1.000 Eric Smith

2013 3 2 .600 John McMurdo

TOTALS 27 22 .531 —12—

$ Denotes District 6 Champions

2014 Ridge Manor AA Rookies (ages 7-8) All-Stars


1 Jasmine Avant 1B/OF/P

2 Kiko Johnson OF/1B

3 Michael Saltsman 3B/P/C/OF

4 Ashton Liddington* SS/OF/C

6 Wyatt Gant OF/3B

7 Bubba Stosh* OF/2B

8 Junior Florez 2B/P/OF/C

9 Aidan Fields OF/2B

10 Bryce Saltsman* P/C/3B

11 Tripp Sumner* C/OF/2B

12 Ryan Thomas OF/P/2B

13 M.J. Haimes OF/3B/2B

* Denotes all-star.

Head Coach – Derek Saltsman

Asst. Coach – Steve Sumner Jr.

Asst. Coach – Robert Liddington

Asst. Coach – Robert Dearing

By the numbers: Ridge Manor AA Rookies District 6 Results (2001-13)

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


2001 0 0 .000 NO TEAM

2002 0 0 .000 NO TEAM

2003 0 2 .000 Adam Buckner

2004 0 2 .000 Adam Buckner

2005 0 2 .000 Paul Valdes

2006 0 2 .000 Candie Sullivan

2007 1 2 .333 Candie Sullivan

2008 1 2 .333 Bryan Griffin

2009 3 2 .600 John Jernigan

2010 0 2 .000 Pat Garland

2011 0 2 .000 Cameron Chace

2012 0 2 .000 Anthony Rogers

2013 0 2 .000 Frankie Portuondo

TOTALS 5 22 .185 —9—

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