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Dixie Baseball

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Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 04:26 PM

If Mother Nature cooperates just enough, the Dixie Junior (age 13) and Senior (age 14) Boys All-Stars District 6 Tournament will get started this weekend.

A pair of Spring Hill teams arrives at San Antonio Athletic Complex in Pasco County, comprised of three state championship squads from the past couple years.

Going back two years, Spring Hill National captured the state crown at the Dixie AAA Majors (ages 11-12) level.

In 2011, that team essentially split into two – those that remained AAA Majors and defended that state title, and those that moved up and became Junior Boys state champs.

With many of those same players back in the fold this go-around, Spring Hill hopes to add to its collection of trophies over the next few weeks.

The Junior Boys district tournament really isn't a tournament at all. With only Spring Hill and Sumter in the field, it will simply break down into a best-of-3 series.

It begins today at 9 a.m. and resumes Sunday at 1 p.m. If necessary a third game will take place Wednesday at 6 p.m.

There remains a distinct possibility that both teams will advance to the State Tournament running July 14-18 in Sebring. District 6 director Brian Simmons said he has not yet been informed how many of the district's Junior and Senior squads will move on.

"I know what's in Sebring," Spring Hill head coach Shawn Laferty said. "Sebring was in O-Zone and won the World Series twice. We went to the World Series twice, but not at the O-Zone level, which is leadoffs and steals.

"We've been practicing since May 29. We'd like to get to the World Series. But you never what's going to happen."

Laferty, who guided Spring Hill National to the AAA Majors state championship last year, leads a roster featuring: Stephen Bienstock, Robert Bunyon, Joseph Harris, Luke Laferty, Zachary Lawrence, Dalton Lewis, Dominic Marrone, Nicholas Nguyen, Zachary Peek, Logan Ross, Bodhi Sbashnig, Noah Siem and Trevor Vendrone.

Assistant coaches are Tony Siem and Don Bunyon.

Robert Bunyon, Luke Laferty, Marrone, Ross, Sbashnig and Noah Siem were all part of the 2011 Spring Hill National AAA Majors All-Stars.

"It's almost the same team from last year. We have three or four kids from other teams," Coach Laferty said.

"We're going to be right there. Pitching-wise, we still have Noah. I think that's where we're hurting is our pitching."

The coach said his staff, including Bunyon, Bienstock, Luke Laferty, Lewis, Marrone and Vendrone, simply lacks experience.

But that doesn't apply to Noah Siem. The tall left-hander was spectacular for Spring Hill National a year ago, going 7-1 with a 0.89 earned run average.

He struck out 61 batters in 27 innings, playing the role of a bonafide ace. However, Dixie rules limit the amount of time he can take the mound.

"It puts a lot of it on him," Coach Laferty said. "When we get down to Sebring, that's the main goal, some of these other guys need to step up."

The pressure will also be on a group of hitters Coach Laferty compared to "a bunch of linebackers" in terms of build.

Siem was also a star at the plate last year, hitting .553 with 10 home runs and 23 runs batted in, all team highs.

Luke Laferty was right behind, with a .500 average, seven homers and 15 RBI. Marrone hit .343 with 13 RBI.

As for scouting Sumter, Coach Laferty said he doesn't know much about that team but assumes it will combine forces from Bushnell, Oak Griner and Sumter.

He added that he may take a cautious approach to pitching Siem, especially if a state spot is assured.

"We want to win it," the coach said. "But it falls back on pitching. We'll go as far as our pitching goes. I think we'll play good defense, our catching is strong. It's going to come down to pitching."

The Spring Hill Senior Boys have a handful of players from the 2010 AAA Majors and 2011 Junior Boys who won states under Al Sorrentino, then Jeff Hamilton.

Jeff Misener and Hunter Rhineberger are holdovers from both those clubs.

The full roster includes Justin "Chevy" Chevalier, David Jones Jr., Brett Krieger, Ryan McCane, Jacob Murray, Matthew Myers, Devon Nicolini, Liam Radecki, Zack Rosario, Marianne Sparacia and Matt Warner.

Chevalier, Murray, Myers, Radecki and Sparacia played on last year's Juniors. Gone, though, are Matthew Clark, Dante Hamilton and Thomas and Zach Sorrentino.

Over the previous two summers, Clark, Hamilton and Thomas Sorrentino joined Misener as the top pitchers.

However, head coach Gary Myers – assisted by David Jones and Angelo Sparacia – still believes the players he has can get it done on the mound.

Along with Misener, Matthew Myers and Warner are expected to be the main starting pitchers.

"We have depth in pitching and the kids have been working really hard," Coach Myers said. "We practice a lot every day and we should be good. We've got some big bats on our team, too."

Misener has been the biggest bat of them all for Spring Hill in recent years, and Rhineberger has had his moments, hitting a record-tying two grand slams in the World Series in 2010.

So even with the loss of some talent, Coach Myers feels good about Spring Hill's chances in the five-team district.

Spring Hill drew a first-round bye and won't play until Sunday at 3 p.m., against the winner of Saturday's contest between San Antonio and Wesley Chapel.

"Our goal is to win the whole thing. But we've got to take it one step at a time," Coach Myers said. "We want to make it through districts and go to the State Tournament.

"It'll take good pitching and timely hitting, in a nutshell. And good defense."

The other Saturday game of the Senior Boys tournament pits Brooksville against Sumter at 1:30 p.m.

Several players on this Brooksville squad have had their own run of success over the years. Two years ago it was Brooksville – not Spring Hill National – that collected the AAA Majors district title.

The team features: Scotty Bierwiler, Gabe Bonilla, Andres Cabrera, Colson Cannon, Brent Day, Clay Everett, Tyson Libengood, Owen Morgan, Elijah Ramirez, Dustin Ratliff, Travis Ritter, Tyler Skipper and Sam Vidal.

Cabrera, Everett, Libengood, Ramirez, Ratliff, Ritter and Skipper were part of that AAA Majors team.

This Brooksville crew also has players from teams that won the district in AA Rookies (ages 7-8) in 2006 and AAA Minors (ages 9-10) in 2009.

Ed Ritter was an assistant back then under Bruce Price, and fills the role of head coach now, with assistants Travis Ratliff and Robbie Wardlow.

"Our depth pitching-wise is better than what we've had in the past," Coach Ritter said. "Other than that, it's about the same team as what we had the past couple years.

"I think our strength is pitching. Our fielding is real good. The depth on the team is real good. Any one of my starters can come out and I can fill the position with a child coming off the bench.

"If we had a weakness, it's the kids' tendency not to hit on a consistent basis. But if they're hitting, look out."

There are actually five 13-year-olds on the roster, since Brooksville is not participating in Junior Boys.

Ratliff, Ritter and Morgan are expected to take on the lion's share of the pitching duties. Bierwiler, Cabrera, Morgan and Ramirez figure to be the primary hitters.

"I'd like to win it, that's my goal," Coach Ritter said. "I know and the kids know they've got their work cut out for them. They've been busting their butts to achieve it in practice. We want to walk out there and win it all."


cbernhardt@hernandotoday.com (352) 544-5288

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