For the sixth time in eight summers, Hernando County will be represented in the Dixie Youth League AA Rookies (ages 7-8) Pitching Machine Baseball State Championship Tournament.
The expected week-long event features 16 teams in a double-elimination format at the manicured Millennium Park, 6500 Powell Road in Wildwood.
Action begins with eight games scheduled for today in Sumter County.
This year's field features: Spring Hill American, Wesley Chapel Royal, West Volusia, Paxton, Calhoun County, East Lakeland, Freeport, Graceville, Hardee County, Franklin County, Malone, Marianna, Port St. Joe, West Seminole American, Okeechobee and host Wildwood.
The defending state champion is West Seminole American. In 2012, Sebring finished as state runner-up at Marianna's M.E.R.E. Complex.
Similar to last summer, both the Florida state champion and runner-up receive automatic invitations to compete in the July 27 regional tournament just outside of Waterboro, S.C. in Colton County.
Next summer, Dixie Youth Baseball will offer its first pitching machine and coach-pitch World Series for this age group.
Hernando County's lone entry in this event is District 6 runner-up Spring Hill American.
This is Spring Hill's third representation in this elite event. Previously, head coach Shawn Laferty's 2007 club was shown the door at 0-2.
Last summer, Eric Smith's District 6 champion SH National squad departed after a 2-2 run.
This is Hernando County's sixth entry into this event and none of the previous five teams has ever reached a state final.
Both Bruce Price's 2007 Brooksville National and Kevin Bittinger's 2011 Brooksville squads each finished 3-2 and tied for third place
This year's SH American Rookies club features: OF/C/INF Caden Bergantino, 2B/OF Brant Davis, SS/P Dylan Day, OF/INF Kannin Fleming, OF Nick Franklin, 3B/P/SS Jaxen Gates, OF/P/INF Ethan Higgins, OF/1B/P James Hurd IV, OF Brenden Jones, C/P/LF Izabell LaRoche, P/OF/C Layne Mathis, P/1B/3B Sam Sanchez and OF/INF Brian Seaman Jr.
Kip Fleming will lead the SH American Rookies assisted by Kenny Davis, David Jones
and Brian Seaman.
The American nine features four players with previous all-star experience: Davis, Gates, LaRoche and Sanchez.
Franklin was a last-second addition to the roster after Jones broke his arm (playing on the monkey bars at school) just prior to the first pitch at Wesley Chapel.
Without Jones, Fleming's crew finished 4-2 during the rain-plagued District 6 event at Wesley Chapel District Park. Spring Hill outscored its opponents 71-40.
The only problem was a pair of losses to heavily favored Wesley Chapel Royal, 14-6 (7 innings) and 14-0 (4 innings).
One of the biggest issues for the Hernando County clubs at the machine-pitch state level has been the transition away from coach-pitch and player-pitch.
"One of the reasons why Spring Hill teams have done so well down the line is we start our pitchers at an earlier age," noted Coach Fleming. "That helps us down the road. But at this level starting this weekend I would say it's definitely been a change - going to the machine.
"Most of the teams coming in haven't hit off machines," he added. "We've practiced for the past two weeks off the machine. We've hit the ball real well."
According to Coach Fleming, the pitching machine may level out the competition.
"We couldn't handle the sheer number of pitchers Wesley Chapel (Royal) threw at us," pointed out Coach Fleming. "Now, they've got to play just like we do. Pitching is deemphasized. Now, it's all about putting the ball in play."
On some of the key nuances of the tourney, "We're fortunate that 70 percent of our guys can bunt," detailed Fleming. "Plus, we've got the 'Bash Bros' in Sanchez and Mathis."
Instead of driving back and forth after games, Spring Hill is expecting to stay the night in an area hotel, at least for the weekend.
"I can tell you as a father, the boys were really excited about staying at a hotel together and doing the pool thing," smiled Coach Fleming. "I'll have to lay down the law. It might seem like we're on vacation, but the kids have to remember why we're here and why we've practiced so long for.
"Baseball is supposed to be fun, I get that," added Fleming. "We just can't leave all our energy on the Motel 6 pool deck."
Spring Hill opens the event against a formidable foe, West Volusia, at 12:30 p.m.
"What little we know, West Seminole has won this event five times," stated Coach Fleming. "We know they're tough. And West Volusia beat them for the district title, so how tough are these guys? Really tough, I expect."
On Spring Hill American's expectations, "We feel like we played Wesley Chapel (Royal) real well the first time and should have won," he recalled. "We've got to swing the bats like we're capable of and throw the leather at them."
On whether SH American can become the first Hernando County crew to reach a state final in this age division, "We've sat down with the kids and told them we haven't done anything yet," explained Coach Fleming. "I asked the boys, 'Who wants to continue playing ball?' And every kid raised his hand.
"I told them I want to play ball all summer," added Fleming. "We understand, beginning with Game 1, just how hard the road is for us from here on out.
"I'm personally looking forward to the challenge."
At a Glance
What - Dixie Youth League AA Rookies (ages 7-8) Pitching Machine Baseball State Championship Tournament.
Who - Sixteen teams in a double-elimination format featuring: Spring Hill American, Wesley Chapel Royal, West Volusia, Paxton, Calhoun County, East Lakeland, Freeport, Graceville, Hardee County, Franklin County, Malone, Marianna, Port St. Joe, West Seminole American, Okeechobee and host Wildwood. Defending state champion is West Seminole American.
Where - Millennium Park, 6500 Powell Road, Wildwood
When - Today through July 5 (weather permitting).
At Stake - State champion and runner-up advance to July 27 AA Rookies Regional Tourney at Waterboro, S.C.
2013 Spring Hill American AA Rookies (ages 8-Under) All-Stars
NO. PLAYER POSITION(S)
1 Brant Davis* 2B/OF
3 Sam Sanchez* P/1B/3B
5 Brian Seaman Jr. OF/INF
6 Izabell LaRoche* C/P/LF
7 Brenden Jones OF (Broken arm/out)
8 Dylan Day SS/P
10 Jaxen Gates* 3B/P/SS
11 Caden Bergantino OF/C/INF
17 Ethan Higgins OF/P/INF
19 Nick Franklin OF
23 Layne Mathis P/OF/C
70 James Hurd IV OF/1B/P
99 Kannin Fleming OF/INF
* Denotes returning all-star
Head Coach - Kip Fleming
Asst. Coach - Kenny Davis
Asst. Coach - David Jones
Asst. Coach - Brian Seaman
By the Numbers: Hernando County's AA Rookies State Results (2000-12)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YR TEAM W L .PCT HEAD COACH
2006 Brooksville National 0 2 .000 Bruce Price
2007 Brooksville National 3 2 .667 Bruce Price
2007 Spring Hill American 0 2 .000 Shawn Laferty
2011 Brooksville 3 2 .667 Kevin Bittinger
2012 Spring Hill National 2 2 .500 Eric Smith
TOTALS (5) 8 10 .444 -4-
By the Numbers: Spring Hill American AA Rookies District 6 Results (2001-13)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YR W L .PCT HEAD COACH
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
Road to 'The Show'
District 6 AA Rookies (ages 7-8) Tourney Recap
at Wesley Chapel District Park
Brooksville HYL - bye.
Wesley Chapel Royal 15, Wesley Chapel Red 0
Spring Hill American 22, Spring Hill National 9 (4 Innings)
South Lake 22, Wesley Chapel Blue 15
Bushnell 20, San Antonio 0
Wesley Chapel Navy 28, Ridge Manor 3
Ridge Manor - bye.
Brooksville HYL 6, Wesley Chapel Navy 4
Spring Hill National 19, Wesley Chapel Red 4 (5)
Wesley Chapel Blue 10, San Antonio 9
Wesley Chapel Royal 14, Spring Hill American 6 (7)
Bushnell 12, South Lake 2
Wesley Chapel Royal - bye.
Spring Hill American 22, Ridge Manor 1 (3)
Wesley Chapel Navy 10, South Lake 9
Spring Hill National 21, Wesley Chapel Blue 4 (3)
Bushnell 13, Brooksville HYL 2
Spring Hill National 7, Brooksville HYL 5
Spring Hill American 10, Wesley Chapel Navy 0 (5)
Wesley Chapel Royal 10, Bushnell 0
Spring Hill American 11, Bushnell 2 (6)
Wesley Chapel Royal 14, Spring Hill National 0
Wesley Chapel Royal 14, Spring Hill American 0 (4)
2013 District 6 AA Rookies (ages 7-8) Tourney Standings at Wesley Chapel's District Park
PL TEAM W L .PCT RS RA
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 June 29 AA Rookies State Tournament at Wildwood.