Baseball district tourneys underway next week

PHU’s Andy Booth and the Hurricanes enter next week as the defending District 9A-8 champs. The ’Canes play in one of the most challenging leagues in the Tampa Bay area and will have to take out Newsome on the road to reach the district title game.

Win-or-go-home time starts next week for baseball programs across the state.

A few teams in North Pinellas find themselves well-positioned to compete for district championships and regional playoff berths, but taking care of business during tournament time is never a sure thing. Every year, one off-day results in a higher seed and more-qualified squad packing their gear up before regional brackets get set.

League tournaments get underway next week and this could be a huge moment for North Pinellas. Up to seven programs may reach their league title games and get into the postseason.

CLASS 8A DISTRICT 7

East Lake’s put together one of its best regular seasons in program history and solidified itself as the top district seed by going 8-0 in league play. The Eagles entered this week having played 22 games and they’ve surrendered just 24 runs. That’s going to lead to a lot of wins and East Lake’s won almost all of them.

The year’s first setback came April 25 at home when rival Palm Harbor University got the Eagles 3-1 and that was only the fourth time this season the dominant East Lake pitching staff’s allowed three or more runs. The most runs allowed came during a 10-4 road win over IMG Academy Blue on March 13.

The Eagles outscored its four other District 8A-7 opponents by a combined score of 78-8 and they’re a favorite to take home a third-straight league championship trophy. Vying for that coveted runner-up position that secures a regional berth will be Countryside, St. Petersburg and Seminole. All three went 4-4 in district play and each team split with each other in the regular season. St. Pete (14-9) owns the best overall record compared to the Countryside (7-14) and Seminole (8-13), but there isn’t much separating that trio. Countryside’s struggled mightily down the stretch, losing eight of its last 10, but getting the right seeding that avoids meeting East Lake before the title game could still get the Cougars in.

CLASS 9A DISTRICT 8

Palm Harbor University’s regular-season records may not look like much since Coach Tom Hilbert took over in 2015, but the results are hard to argue.

Not only are the Hurricanes the defending champions in a highly competitive four-team field, PHU’s reached the second round of the Class 9A playoffs twice the past three seasons. Keeping the title in Palm Harbor isn’t going to be any easier or more difficult next week. The league’s top seed, Alonso, lost to the league’s fourth-place seed, Sarasota Riverview, both times they met this year.

Anyone can beat anyone here.

For PHU, that means heading to Lithia next week to take on Newsome in the semifinals. The Hurricanes went there and beat Newsome 2-1, but lost 3-2 at home. Considering Alonso’s struggles with Riverview this year, it’s anyone’s guess who will be waiting for the PHU-Newsome winner in the district title game Thursday.

CLASS 6A DISTRICT 9

It’s been a while since Tarpon Springs found itself in such a position, but the Spongers just may find themselves playing a regional playoff game this year.

Tarpon Springs isn’t coming into the week as the tourney favorite – that privilege belongs to Dunedin – but District 6A-9 only consists of four teams. That means a home win over Boca Ciega, a team the Spongers split with in the regular season, sends them into the championship game.

Tarpon Springs won 24 games in 2012 and reached the Class 6A region semifinals. The program won just 33 the last six years combined. Coach Chad Pittman has things pointed in the right direction.

Dunedin, however, is the team to beat in District 6A-9. Coach Ron Sexton’s Falcons are 16-8 overall and they’ve won the past two league crowns. Dunedin’s reached the region finals four straight years, including a trip to the state semifinals in 2017.

CLASS 4A DISTRICT 4

Calvary Christian’s been atop this district for three straight years and the Warriors are in position to capture their third consecutive league trophy by the end of the week.

The Warriors have plenty of challengers from around the area, however, including a North Pinellas rival – Clearwater Central Catholic. Calvary lost two league games this year and the second came against CCC when they fell on the road 6-5 to the Marauders.

While the Warriors are the deepest and most-talented District 4A-4 team, CCC, Berkeley Prep and Tampa Prep all have the potential to go on a run this year and pull off upsets.