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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

State title hunt launches in Highlands County

Hernando Today correspondent


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For the first time ever, two Hernando County T-Ball (ages 5-6) All-Star teams will participate in the state's elite event beginning today at Highlands County's Max Long Baseball Complex in Sebring.

The fourth annual T-Ball State Tournament features 12 teams in a five-day, double-elimination format including: Wildwood Blue, Wesley Chapel Red, Brooksville, Spring Hill, Hardee County, Sebring, West Seminole American, Mulberry, West Volusia, Ponce de Leon, Okeechobee American and Paxton.

The defending champ is Wesley Chapel American. The East Pasco County club also raised the initial state championship banner in 2010.

District 6 is seeking its third state crown behind four solid entries: defending district champ Wildwood Blue (5-0), district runner-up Wesley Chapel Red (3-2), third-place Brooksville (3-2) and fourth-place Spring Hill (2-2).

This is Brooksville's second state entry. Coach Kevin Bittinger's 2011 T-Ball squad finished in a tie for third place at states at 3-2.

This summer's Brooksville T-Ball All-Star squad features a 12-member roster: 3B Davion Bickford, RCF James Bishop IV, LF Colten Cloud, SS/2B Kaine Ellis, LF Ernie Gay, 2B/SS Braden Harmon, 1B/P Niko Janssens, RF Pittman Jernigan, C Jeter Leite, P/1B Mason Morgan, RF Xander Turner and LCF D'Treyvion Wilson.

The Brooksville nine will be led by J.P. Janssens. Janssens will be assisted by Cole Brinson, Tyson Ellis, and Ernest Gay.

Janssens' club will lean on a triumvirate of returning All-Stars from 2012 including his son Niko along with Harmon and Morgan.

After opening district action at Bushnell's Community Center on the wrong end of a 30-18 score against Wesley Chapel Red, Brooksville pieced together a three-game win skein solving Sumter (31-16), South Lake (34-13) and Wesley Chapel Navy (31-20).

The East Hernando County crew was eliminated by eventual champ Wildwood Blue, 21-10.

On the lessons learned from that original five-game experience in Sumter County, "We've shuffled things around in our outfield," replied Coach Janssens. "We've really worked on catching the ball in the outfield and hitting the cutoffs.

"By playing in ballparks with 200-foot fences at states we've had our second basemen and shortstops really learn the art of being the cutoff guy in relays," he added. "The big thing for them is when do you cut the ball off and when you don't."

At the plate, "What we learned from districts is we've got to run the bases a little smarter and a little more aggressively," noted Janssens.

The Brooksville nine opens at 1 p.m. today against Walton County's Paxton.

"Going in, we know nothing about Paxton, but they probably know very little about us," said Coach Janssens. "We're not going to take a lot of risks in that first inning."

On his team's goal, "My goal is to survive the weekend," stressed Janssens. "We've calculated a five-day stay. I want to play on every day.

"If for some reason we don't make it through Sunday, we'll have a little party for the kids on Monday," added Janssens. "I see this tournament as a way to make memories for a lifetime."

???Remarkably, Spring Hill (2-2) remains alive in its first-ever season of competition in this age division.

The inaugural 12-member Spring Hill team features: RF/2B Jack Barnum, P/C Cody Bishop, 2B/RF Travis Clark, 3B Raymond Groetsch, P/CF Brandon Higgins, C/CF Zachary Hotop, SS Brady McMurdo, CF/2B Hunter Richardson, 2B Michael Rizzuto, 3B/LF Tyler Shugarts Jr., CF/SS Logan Sway and 1B Andrew Ward.

Skipper Craig Hotop will be assisted by Tyler Shugarts Sr., Lee Clark and Joe Ward.

Spring Hill was dunked in its District 6 debut by Wildwood Blue, 22-10. The West Hernando County nine bounced back to topple Wildwood White (33-12) and Bushnell (33-11).

Hotop's crew was eliminated by Wesley Chapel Red in a thriller, 28-26.

"Since districts we've concentrated on a new approach at the plate," emphasized Coach Hotop. "Before districts we were attempting to strategically place the ball. We've scraped that in favor of improving offensively behind a fundamentally sound swing."

Like Brooksville, Spring Hill's defense has been tweaked to play on fields with much deeper fences at Sebring.

"At this level, you don't have 6-year-olds who can throw guys out from the alleys along the 200-foot fences," pointed out Coach Hotop. "Playing as the cutoff guy is pretty tricky. We've practiced nonstop on what to do on a tag play. It's very important to recognize what to do with the ball if it comes your way."

Spring Hill opens the tourney at 11:30 a.m. today against Mulberry.

"In my first game at districts, that experience put me upside down," recalled Coach Hotop. "The coaches and I thought we were so prepared. It turned out; we weren't as prepared as I thought. Actually playing under those conditions - a kind of baptism under fire - helped us.

"This time, I'm not taking anything for granted in our first game at states. The kids know exactly what's expected."

On Spring Hill's goals, "At this point, we know - based on the brackets - that we'll play a doubleheader on Sunday," detailed Coach Hotop. "I just want us to get through the weekend.

"We're not taking anybody or anything for granted," he cautioned. "As far as we're concerned, (today's) opener sets the tone."

At a Glance

What - 4th annual Dixie Youth League T-Ball (ages 5-6) State Tournament.

Who - Twelve teams in a double-elimination format featuring: Wildwood Blue, Wesley Chapel Red, Brooksville, Spring Hill, Hardee County, Sebring, West Seminole American, Mulberry, West Volusia, Ponce de Leon, Okeechobee American and Paxton. Defending champ is Wesley Chapel American.

Where - Max Long Baseball Complex, 368 S. Commerce Ave., Sebring.

When - Today through Wednesday (weather permitting).

At Stake - State champion will be crowned.

By the Numbers: Hernando County's T-Ball (ages 5-6) All-Stars State Results (2010-12)

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


2011 Brooksville 3 2 .600 Kevin Bittinger

By the Numbers: Past T-Ball (ages 5-6) State Champions (2010-12)

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


2010 Wesley Chapel American

2011 West Volusia American

2012 Wesley Chapel American

Road to "The Show"

District 6 T-Ball (ages 5-6) Tourney Recap at Bushnell's Community Center


Bushnell 36, South Lake 25

Wildwood White 42, San Antonio 41

Wesley Chapel Red 30, Brooksville 18 (4.5 Innings)

Wesley Chapel Navy 30, Sumter 13 (4)

Wildwood Blue 22, Spring Hill 10 (3.5)


Wesley Chapel Red-bye.

Spring Hill-bye.

South Lake 41, San Antonio 30

Brooksville-HYL 31, Sumter 16

Bushnell 36, Wildwood White 25 (4.5)

Wildwood Blue 28, Wesley Chapel Navy 6 (4)


Wildwood Blue-bye.

Wesley Chapel Navy-bye.

Brooksville 34, South Lake 13 (4.5)

Spring Hill 33, Wildwood White 12

Wesley Chapel Red 27, Bushnell 16


Brooksville 31, Wesley Chapel Navy 20 (6)

Spring Hill 33, Bushnell 11 (4.5)

Wildwood Blue 26, Wesley Chapel Red 15 (5.5)


Wildwood Blue 21, Brooksville 10 (4.5)

Wesley Chapel Red 28, Spring Hill 26



Wildwood Blue 20, Wesley Chapel Red 9 (5.5)

2013 Final District 6 T-Ball (ages 5-6) Tourney Standings at Bushnell's Community Center


1. Wildwood Blue* 5 0 1.000 117 50

2. Wesley Chapel Red* 3 2 .600 109 106

3. Brooksville* 3 2 .600 124 100

4. Spring Hill* 2 2 .500 102 73

5. Bushnell 2 2 .333 99 110

6. South Lake 1 2 .333 79 100

6. Wildwood White 1 2 .333 78 110

6. Wesley Chapel Navy 1 2 .333 56 72

9. (tie)Sumter 0 2 .000 29 61

9. (tie)San Antonio 0 2 .000 71 83

TOTALS 18 18 .500

* Denotes qualified for July 6 T-Ball State Championship Tournament in Sebring.

2013 Brooksville T-Ball All-Stars


1 Niko Janssens* 1B/P

2 James Bishop IV RCF

3 Xander Turner RF

6 Pittman Jernigan RF

7 Ernie Gay LF

8 Kaine Ellis SS/2B

9 Colten Cloud LF

10 Jeter Leite C

11 Braden Harmon* 2B/SS

13 Davion Bickford 3B

12 D'Treyvion Wilson LCF

44 Mason Morgan* P/1B

* Denotes returning all-star selection.

Head Coach - J.P. Janssens

Assistant Coach - Tyson Ellis

Assistant Coach - Ernest Gay

Assistant Coach - Cole Brinson

2013 Spring Hill T-Ball All-Stars


1 Tyler Shugarts Jr. 3B/LF

2 Zachary Hotop C/CF

3 Brady McMurdo SS

4 Michael Rizzuto 2B

9 Logan Sway CF/SS

11 Jack Barnum RF/2B

16 Hunter Richardson CF/2B

18 Raymond Groetsch 3B

20 Cody Bishop P/C

35 Travis Clark 2B/RF

89 Brandon Higgins P/CF

99 Andrew Ward 1B

Head Coach - Craig Hotop

Assistant Coach - Tyler Shugarts

Assistant Coach - Lee Clark

Assistant Coach - Joe Ward

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