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5A Road To The Final Four: Favorites Reign Supreme

5A Road To The Final Four Schedule & Results

Each region presents numerous teams able to make a playoff run for the state title, with at least one clear favorite in each group. Melbourne Central Catholic is just a few years removed from a state title and the Hustlers have lost just one game all year to show they are a team ready to make another go at it. South Florida provides several worthy opponents, particularly perennial state power Monsignor Pace, as well as a deep and dangerous Somerset Academy team that has played as well as any team in Class 5A. South Sumter, Nature Coast and McKeel Academy have all put together historic seasons and have shown they are ready to add more chapters to their stories. Meanwhile, strong programs such as North Broward Prep and Avon Park have playoff history on their sides and cannot be considered sleepers, but rather just further exhibit the depth of this classification. The ones that survive and advance to the Final Four should be as battle-tested as they come.

Region Two

District Five

Being a favorite in this group only provides a marginal advantage, as several clubs are capable of making a run for the district title. Keystone Heights and PK Yonge have the toughest road, meeting up in a quarterfinal bout before the winner of that contest moves on to take on top-seeded Bradford. The PK Yonge Blue Wave was swept in district play and will need its best game to get past a streaky Indians squad that won three of its past four games. Senior ace Caleb Polk should be ready to lead the way for Bradford in the semifinal.

Santa Fe and Palatka split the regular-season series and the rubber match will decide whose season continues on. Spencer Haire figures to get the ball for the Santa Fe Raiders, unless the club decides to try and save him for a potential championship meeting with a Bradford team that he also defeated this year.

District Six

A pair of heavy-hitters in Eustis and South Sumter wait in the semifinals for the opponent standing between them and a potential rubber-match showdown in the district championship. The Eustis Panthers earned the top seed by virtue of a tie-breaker, where they will meet the winner between Tavares and Mount Dora. South Sumter went 20-4 in the regular season, and the Raiders are a legitimate threat in Class 5A. Cinto Arredondo and Colby Woodard provide the type of frontline pitching that typically leads teams on deep playoff runs, especially with closer Chris Sumner there to get those tough final outs. South Sumter gets started in the district playoffs against the winner of Umatilla and district-hosts The Villages.

The district-host Buffalo turned their season around with an eight-game win streak in the second half of the year, and start off with an Umatilla Bulldogs squad that has struggled all season. Tavares has been inconsistent all year, but can take confidence in having swept both meetings with the Hurricanes.

District Seven

Top seed Nature Coast heads a deep pack of contenders that includes Ridgewood, Hernando and Central. The #1 seeded Sharks are 18-4 overall and also went 11-1 in district play, with Zach Funkhouser leading an offense that hit over .300 and Jonathan Gates serving as a dual-threat at the plate and on the mound. The Hernando Leopards won five of their last six to come in hot, and also have home-field advantage as the district hosts. The Central Bears may not be as deep as others, but leaders like Matthew Warner, Mike Ebberup and Jarrod Nesbitt give them plenty of reason for optimism. The Ridgewood Rams have made a habit of playing close games all year long, with 10 games decided by two runs or less. Jake Treloar is a force to be reckoned with at the plate.

District Eight

Bishop Moore has been a streaky team this season but still managed to sweep the district to earn the top seed. The district hosts have not fared well at home this year with a 6-6 mark, but that record is slightly deceiving based on some of the tough competition the Hornets have hosted this season. Gabe Scavone and Josh Bates lead the club into its semifinal match against the Atlantic Sharks.

Lake Highland Prep comes into the tournament playing its best baseball, having won eight of its past nine contests. The Highlanders are especially strong on the mound, with Max Clark, Will Saxton and Neil Patel all capable of pitching them to a district crown. The team hit well over .300 as an offensive unit, which included a 13-0 barrage against the Jones Tigers squad it faces in the district semifinals.

All signs point towards the two top seeds meeting up in the district championship.

Region Three

District Nine

One of the larger districts in Class 5A presents an intriguing road for the eventual finalists. The district winner will need to win three games to do so, which challenges the pitching staff and requires teams to maintain hot bats on offense. Melbourne Central Catholic earned the district’s top seed and the favorable route, and the Hustlers (24-1) went a perfect 14-0 in the district to earn the distinction as the team to beat. Melbourne Central Catholic takes on Titusville in the quarterfinals.

Satellite also had a strong showing this year to earn the two seed and a favorable first-round meeting with Astronaut. The Scorpions are the hosts of the district tournament and should enjoy some extra motivation from their home fans. Third-seeded Cocoa is equally dangerous, especially on offense. The Tigers take on a Coca Beach team that has struggled on the mound and will need to match that offense at the plate.

The teams in the middle of the pack find a level playing field, as neither Space Coast or Holy Trinity finished with a winning record. The Space Coast Vipers have ace Chase Leblanc to lead the way, although he struggled in a recent meeting with the Tigers.

District Ten

McKeel Academy blazed its way to a record season, jumping into the top seed in the district and also holding court as the #1 team in the esteemed Tampa Bay Power Rankings. Of all the victories this season, the most important came when the Wildcats won at Avon Park on March 31st. This was the first time the club had won there during manager Ron Nipper’s tenure, and the team is 14-0 on the road this year. Dylan LeFebvre and Cody Woodring lead a deep pitching staff and Josh Jano is the top hitter in the district.

McKeel may be hoping for Mulberry to pull of an upset in the district quarterfinal meeting with Tenoroc, after the Titans took McKeel to extra innings in a recent game. The Panthers are limping into the tournament on a six-game losing streak and also lost both contests against Tenoroc this year, so that task will be easier said than done. The Titans also have pitching depth on their side, with both Bradley Jarvis and Carlos Torres able to win big games for them.

The Red Devils are likely licking their chops at another shot at McKeel, but will need to first get past a Hardee club that has won four straight. Offense is the driving force for Avon Park, led by Adarius Council, Luis Martinez and Anthony Torres. Hardee has also struggled on the mound, and will count on Hayden Lindsey and Drew McGuckin to continue to lead the batters like they have done all season.

District Eleven

Booker earned the first seed and a favorable semifinal meeting against the winner between Gibbs and Bayshore, two foes it swept in four games by a combined total of 46-7. The Gladiators will be looking for their first win of the season against a Bayshore group that has played its best baseball down the stretch.

Southeast will also be looking to spark a playoff run with an upset win over Lakewood, and can take some confidence onto the field after splitting the regular-season series. The Seminoles won that road contest thanks to a big day on offense and a complete-game performance from Jared Cook, who could get the call again this time around. The Spartans struggled midseason but managed to win three of their last four to gain some playoff momentum, which included a road win over the Seminoles.

Should the favorites all win it will set up a rubber match against Lakewood and Booker, after both won on the opposing side’s home turf during the regular season. That could also pit strength on strength for a potential game of the ages, as Booker has pitching power with Micah Davis and Hunter Johnson and Lakewood has the mighty bat of senior Bo Bichette, who swatted an eye-popping 11 home runs this season to go along with a .569 batting average and an amazing 1.373 slugging percentage.

But as these stars know, baseball is a team game and they cannot do it all alone. Jake Underhill, James Boldin and Ryan Heller back the Tornadoes’ pitching with the offensive punch, while Dontae Mitchell and Jaime Robles have done an excellent job of supporting Bichette in the middle of the Spartans’ batting order.

District Twelve

Lemon Bay went 6-0 in the district to earn the top slot in the tournament, and the Manta Rays are also the only one of the four with a winning record. Dunbar takes the first crack at them, hoping to avoid the lopsided results that came in both regular-season meetings. The underdog Tigers have used a nice mix of speed and contact-hitting to score runs this year, with Kenny Benjamin getting on base and wrecking havoc to get into scoring position for power hitters like Andres Torres and Darin Tobias. Lemon Bay counters that attack with the dual-threat from standout Trey Fields, who leads the team’s pitching and offense.

Lake Placid and DeSoto County square off in the other semifinal, and the two split the season series to give both plenty of confidence heading into the rubber match. Sammy Callahan and Mike Warner pace Lake Placid’s offense, while Robb Adams, Will Nelson and Peyton Smith provide enough pop to lead DeSoto County in what will likely be an offensive battle.

Region Four

District Thirteen

Earning the top seed comes as a great advantage for LaBelle, as it needs only to defeat a winless Glades Central squad to advance to the district championship and earn a spot in the regional playoffs. The Cowboys went undefeated in district play this year and have been particularly strong on the mound. Tyler Burton and Tyler Nesbitt lead a pitching staff that posted 10 shutout victories on the year, while Larry Rodriguez paces an offense that will be very important against the tough pitching coming out of 5A-14 that LeBelle would face in the regional playoffs.

Lincoln Park earned the second seed and the home distinction in the other semifinal against Clewiston. The Greyhounds have been carried by some strong leaders, as Derek Schwimmer has hit over .500 on the year and Jeff Gerlica leads the district in both strikeouts and ERA. Those standouts will be needed against a Tigers team that will be all-in for the upset they will need to keep their season alive. Colin Roth has led Clewiston both on the mound and at the plate this season.

District Fourteen

This district represents several contenders with a very realistic chance to make a run to the state Final Four. Leading the pack is Somerset Academy, which put together a historic season thanks to a dedicated roster full of players that have been together for the past few seasons working towards this goal. The Panthers have won 13 straight and stormed to the top of the district thanks to an impressive balance of offense, defense and pitching. While standouts like Derek Cartaya, Kenny Moreno-Costa and Mark Bejar set the tone, the driving force on this club is the chemistry they share that motivates them to play their hearts out for the guys doing the same thing right alongside them.

Somerset awaits the winner of the quarterfinal meeting between Cardinal Gibbons and Pompano Beach. The Chiefs have struggled this year and come into the district tournament on a five-game losing streak. Gibbons can take confidence into that game knowing it has already defeated the Tornadoes once this season. Meanwhile, Pompano Beach is a team capable of winning out and surprising some teams. The Tornadoes hit their stride during Spring Break to win six of their final eight games, and Peyton Trautman and Trevor Kniskern lead a pitching staff that can get the job done in the playoffs.

The other quarterfinal pits two equals in Coral Springs Charter and Pine Crest. These two Panther squads split the regular-season series with each winning on its home turf. Offense has been leading the way for each, as Coral Spring Charter’s Robert Robinson leads the district in hitting, while Michael Rothenberg and Cameron Andres pace the Pine Crest batting order. Both sides have the pitching to get it done, as starter James Doherty and Jason Chandilall anchor Coral Springs Charter while Garret Rukes and Jordan Schulefand represent an equal threat for Pine Crest.

Second-seeded North Broward Prep awaits the surviving Panthers, where the Eagles look to initiate a playoff run in pursuit of their first state title. North Broward Prep had an up-and-down regular season while playing a schedule as tough as any, but it has the frontline talent capable of carrying the squad back to the state tournament for the third time in the last six years. With six college-bound seniors leading the way, the Eagles are a threat to be taken seriously. Evan McKendry, Greg Veliz and Anthony Masiello provide plenty of pitching depth, while Aaron Antonini and Muhammed Eid lead the offense.

District Fifteen

Monsignor Pace has a rich history that includes six state championships, and the Spartans are every bit capable of adding a seventh trophy to the mantle this season. Pace has a team as deep, versatile and hungry as any in Class 5A. Nicholas Fusco and Chris Rodriguez anchor a strong pitching staff, while the batting order is more than nine deep. Jonathan Reyes-Diaz is one of many table-setters and Brandon Cruz and Justin Ledesma lead a deep crop of power hitters. Monsignor Pace also has the added advantage of hosting the district tournament, where the program has a strong fan following.

St. Brendan will face the Spartans in the semifinals with an eye on pulling off the upset. The Sabres have struggled down the stretch under first-year manager Tito Rodriguez, as a young team has endured some growing pains. the team has enough pitching to compete in the district tournament, led by starters Frank Melero and Carlos Marrero and relievers Ryan Denis and David Perez.

Perhaps the more intriguing semifinal comes in the game between Mater Lakes and LaSalle, two district equals both capable of winning the district title. While both finished with nearly identical records, the Bears earned the second seed by sweeping the season series. LaSalle has relied on a balanced offensive attack led by Santos Grande, while Rene Arauz and Cristian Santana anchor a Mater Lakes pitching staff that is every bit capable of winning out.

District Sixteen

Gulliver Prep advanced all the way to the state Final Four last season, and by virtue of earning the top seed in the district the Raiders have already earned a berth into the regional playoffs. Gulliver has long been known to play as tough a schedule as any, and that was again the case in 2016. The Raiders faced seven ranked teams from various HSBN Power Rankings, and also finished second in the Perfect Game Showdown tournament. Javy Valdes and Adrian DelCastillo lead a vaunted offense with plenty of power, as the club hit 22 home runs this year.

The semifinal pits two squads that split the regular-season series, with Key West earning the home distinction by virtue of a tie-breaker scenario. The Conchs have history on their side as the most accomplished program in Florida history, while Keys Gate Charter has the advantage of hosting the district tournament on its home field. The Knights also have a legitimate ace in senior William Sanchez and a versatile offensive attack, with Ricardo Grajales and Omar Baldo providing speed and contact-hitting and Alan Quezada driving them in. Hunter Sellers, Jason Garcia and Christian Luna lead the Conchs’ offense.

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