The diamonds belong to East Lake this year.
No other Pinellas County baseball or softball teams have dominated action on the field quite like East Lake. The boys entered this week undefeated and the girls, at 21-1, have been every bit as impressive.
Since softball season begins a couple weeks prior to baseball, the girls are up first to compete for district championship.
Four programs in North Pinellas will begin districts with high hopes of adding championship hardware to their trophy cases. Here’s a look at who’s leading the charge locally.
CLASS 8A DISTRICT 7
This is East Lake’s district and they’re in full control.
The Eagles went 8-0 in league play against – in order of seeding – Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg, Countryside and Seminole, outscoring those opponents 66-6 overall.
East Lake’s lone loss came the second game of the season at Bartow, another top Class 8A team. Other than that 4-1 setback, the Eagles have dominated nearly every other game. Fifteen of their victories have been by three runs or more and they score 8.3 runs per game while surrendering just 1.5.
East Lake has eight regulars hitting over .300, including senior Caroline Jacquay’s incredible .507 average. Fellow senior Nikki Steiniger is one of the area’s leading run producers with 30 RBI.
Junior Tori Brennan, East Lake’s ace since her freshman season, just keeps getting better. She’s 17-1 overall and owns a 0.72 ERA, striking out 121 batters and walking only 19.
While East Lake ran the table in the district and is the county’s top program this season, nothing is guaranteed when it’s win-or-go-home time. The Eagles’ likely opponent in the May 2 district championship game is tournament host Pinellas Park. The Patriots unassuming 10-8 record doesn’t seem too threatening, but they played East Lake tight during both meetings before losing 3-1 and 4-0.
CLASS 9A DISTRICT 8
It’s hard to find a district in the entire Tampa Bay region more competitive than this one.
All four teams – Alonso, Newsome, Palm Harbor University and Sarasota Riverview – spent the season showing that any team can win on any day. So much so that they all ended with identical 3-3 records in league play, meaning they all split head-to-head series against one another.
PHU’s had a bit of an uneven season but enters this week 17-6 overall and possessing one of the county’s top offenses. This Hurricanes team is definitely looking to outscore opponents instead of relying on lockdown pitching and defense.
Since the four teams all went 3-3, tournament seedings were yet to be set prior to this week. In terms of run differential during district games, Newsome – the team with the best overall record of 15-4 – led at plus-9. PHU was second at minus-1, followed by Alonso at minus-2 and Riverview at minus-6.
Newsome blew out PHU 13-3 the first time they met but the ’Canes avenged that embarrassment by slamming the Wolves 9-2 last week.
(UPDATE: Seedings came down to Monday coin flips. Riverview is No. 1, PHU is No. 2, Alonso is No. 3 and Newsome is No. 4.)
PHU won 5-0 at Alonso on March 26 and lost 14-11 at home April 11.
Since qualifying for the postseason for the first time in 1998, PHU’s never sat out two straight region tournaments. The Hurricanes stayed home last year after falling 5-1 against Alonso.
CLASS 6A DISTRICT 9
This is another four-team district but it’s not quite similar to 9A-8. It also has a favorite in Tarpon Springs.
The Spongers entered this week with a so-so 11-8 record, but they went a perfect 5-0 against league opponents. Securing the No. 1 seed allows Tarpon Springs to face last-place Largo (1-11) in the semifinals. That win guarantees the Spongers their fifth straight trip to the postseason. They’ve only entered the region quarterfinals as a district champion over that four-year span once, however, in 2017.
Hosting another first-round game will require beating either No. 2 Dunedin (11-12) or No. 3 Boca Ciega (7-6). If that district semifinal turns out like two regular-season meetings, it’ll be an all-North Pinellas district final. Dunedin beat Boca Ciega 2-0 and 10-9 this year.
CLASS 4A DISTRICT 4
East Lake’s top challenge as Pinellas County’s best is Calvary Christian.
The Warriors are putting together their best season in program history and will enter next week’s league tournament at Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa as the top seed as long as they take care of business Wednesday in a makeup game against Tampa Prep.
Calvary has five batters with 20-plus RBI, including team-leader Hayley Eaton’s 32. Eaton, a junior, is also batting .571. Senior Keily Ulatowski has pounded six home runs for a Warriors offense posting nearly 10 runs a game.
If next week’s tournament plays out as expected, Calvary (18-3) will meet Tampa Catholic (15-6) in the May 3 district final. The teams split in the regular season, with Calvary winning 10-1 at Tampa Catholic and losing 6-4 at home.