By: Danny Aiello Jr
Tuesday marks the start of the baseball district tournaments for Hernando County teams. Across two districts the five squads will each look to bring home hardware and advance to the state playoffs.
5A-7: Sharks seek first title
Nature Coast Sharks 18-4 (11-1 5A-7) Seed: First
Despite making it to the regional playoffs four times, the Sharks have never captured a district crown. This year, Nature Coast looks to change that behind an offense scoring over eight runs per game and a shutdown pitching staff.
Led by Jonathan Gates the Sharks have led the pack and are sitting in pole position for the tournament.
Gates is hitting .522 with 43 runs batted in. Joining him in the lineup are Mason Stacy who is hitting .373 and Zack Funkhouser (.408) helping the Sharks get on the board early and often.
In the district and regional tournaments, you can only go as far as your pitching. Gates has been lights out striking out 82 batters in 49 innings, but the unsung hero is their back end pitcher, Ryan Lotito.
Quietly, Lotito recorded five wins to go along with one save in 20 innings pitched. The numbers don’t do Lotito justice, however, as the Sharks hurler and second baseman has been featured in high leverage situations and become one of coach Frank Vitale’s most reliable pitchers.
Hernando Leopards 15-10 (9-3 5A-7) Seed: Third
Coach Tim Sims has a team that will run until you throw them out, swiping 91 bags the season. Tyson Libengood (.299) and Gabe Bonilla (.303) are both hitting well as the Leopards come into the tournament, but the emergence of Andres Cabrera (.315) gives Hernando a third bat to rely on.
On the mound Elijah Ramirez has a 2.39 ERA across 44 innings alongside six wins and 39 stirkeouts. Pierce Kimbrough has thrown 39 innings to the tune of a 1.26 ERA and has emerged as a top option for the Leopards.
Sims and Hernando will look to knock off Gulf in the first round, before making some noise in the semifinals.
Central Bears 13-12 (7-5 5A-7) Seed: Fourth
Kestler Harbuck looks to be the anchor on a Central pitching staff that really needs one. Harbuck has had success this season pitching to 3.92 ERA across 39.1 innings. Averaging just around a strikeout per inning, Harbuck has had success against the Bears first round opponent Hudson.
Central made a shocking run in the district tournament a year ago, despite being the sixth seed with a 5-7 district record. This season the Bears will need to play more sound defense and find an emerging bat if they hope to make some noise in the tournament.
Currently leading the offense are Justin Chevalier (.352, 15 RBI) and Matt Warner (.360, 23 RBI) but those two can’t do it alone, as the Bears enter districts averaging just over five runs per game.
Tuesday 4/19 Quarterfinals: (At Hernando High)
Hudson vs Central – 4 p.m.
Gulf vs Hernando – 7 p.m.
Fivay vs Ridgewood – 7 p.m.
Wednesday 4/20 Semifinals: (At Hernando High)
CHS/HUD Winner vs Nature Coast – 4 p.m.
Fivay/Ridgewood winner vs Hernando/Gulf winner – 7 p.m.
Friday 4/22 Finals: (At Hernando High)
TBA – 7 p.m.
6A-6: Eagles look to build on fantastic season
Springstead Eagles 18-6 (10-0 6A-6) Seed: First
Undefeated in the district play, Springstead boasts a team ERA of 1.43 led by senior Miguel Martinez (0.88). Martinez has been stellar in his final season with the Eagles, winning seven games and recording a save,. while striking out 59 in 55.2 innings.
Alongside Noah Siem (0.99 ERA) who pitched 42.1 innings while striking out 54, the Eagles offer the districts best 1-2 punch on the mound.
Outscoring teams 133-63, if Springstead can continue to hit, they will be almost impossible to beat in the district tournament.
The run scoring responsibility will fall on the big three of Luke Lafferty (.338), Jake Murray (.380) and Stephen Beinstock (.338) to stay hot and get the offense started.
Weeki Wachee Hornets 4-20 (2-8 6A-6) Seed: Sixth
Despite struggling in a tough district, Weeki Wachee will have positives to take away from this season.
Coach Patrick McHugh has some solid pitching building blocks in Cameron Sereda and Dalton Mosser. Sereda boasts a 3.82 ERA across 29.1 innings and the left-handed junior has 26 strikeouts. Only a sophomore, Mosser has a 2.18 ERA across 45 innings alongside 58 strikeouts. On the offensive side, Jeff Misener (.323), Marc Swarrow (.316, 11 RBI) have led the Hornet’s bats.
Weeki Wachee will need to play better defense behind Mosser and record timely hits to make noise in the district tournament.
Tuesday 4/19 Quarterfinals: (Higher Seed Hosts)
Weeki Wachee vs Dunnellon – 7 p.m.
Crystal River vs Lecanto – 7 p.m.
Wednesday 4/20 Semifinals: (Higher Seed Hosts)
CRY/LEC Winner vs Springstead – 7 p.m.
WWHS/DUN Winner vs Citrus- 7 p.m.
Friday 4/22 Finals: (Higher Seed Hosts)
TBA – 7 p.m.