Posted: 5:29 am Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Baseball playoff predictions 

By Jason Lieser

Eighteen area baseball teams will take the first step toward this year’s championships at Tradition Field when the state baseball playoffs begin later today.


As usual, the biggest matchups are in Class 6A, but this area has enough talent to send at least four teams to the state semifinals.

Here is a quick look at today’s two 6A showdowns, followed by predictions on the rest of Tuesday’s slate.

Park Vista at Palm Beach Central, 4 p.m.

Projected starting pitchers: Brad Gero, PV (6-3, 1.06 ERA) vs. Kyle Finch, PBC (8-1, 1.41 ERA)

Palm Beach Central (24-4) spent almost the entire season as the area’s top-ranked team before dropping to No. 2 in the final week. The Broncos have proven they have the most complete roster in the county and the only in-state teams to beat them this season were Park Vista and American Heritage (the Stallions did so on a walk-off homer with two outs in the bottom of the seventh).

The Cobras (19-7, No. 4 in the Post Top 10) are two weeks removed from demolishing Palm Beach Central in the regular season finale. Park Vista beat the Broncos 12-2 in six innings April 23, which is a game that should play into both teams’ psyches.

For one, it gives Park Vista confidence as it draws a team that many expect to win the Class 6A championship. The Cobras battered three of Palm Beach Central’s best pitchers that night: Finch, Bobby Poyner and Jake Meiers. They did not face Willie Bonilla, but Bonilla is unlikely to be available Tuesday afternoon because he started in Friday’s district championship game.

Neither Larry Greenstein nor Scott Benedict expects a reenactment in the first-round playoff matchup.

“They’re a much better team than that,” Greenstein said. “They couldn’t stop the bleeding in that game, but Finch is a heck of a pitcher and he’s going to come at us. He’s their best, among a lot of good arms on that team.”

Benedict is notorious for not divulging his starting pitchers in advance, but Finch is the obvious choice and Benedict said there is a “good chance” he will start against the Cobras.

“My philosophy is I don’t save a guy for a game that might not even occur,” Benedict said. “If I’m going to get beat I’m not going to get beat with my best guy on the bench.”

Greenstein agreed and said the decision to start Gero was a no-brainer.

The Park Vista loss could be a helpful attention-getter for the Broncos. It’s never a good thing to lose a game, but how a team responds to that loss is significant. It’s doubtful Palm Beach Central would have had any trouble getting up for this game, but a loss that ugly certainly will keep the Broncos from looking ahead to a potential rematch with Jupiter in the second round.

Prediction: Palm Beach Central.

Park Vista needs to score to win in the playoffs, but even if the Cobras put up 5-7 runs, the Broncos have enough firepower in their lineup to avenge their previous loss. Realistically, the Cobras might be good enough to win a region in Class 6A, but probably not this region.

Jupiter at Boca Raton (at FAU), 7 p.m.

Projected starting pitchers: Vinnie Contaldi, JUP (6-0, 1.36 ERA) vs. Anthony Gonzalez, BR (5-3, 1.53 ERA)

Boca Raton has been a great story improving from 10 wins in 2008 to a 23-5 record and a district championship this year. The Bobcats did not play as tough of a schedule as first-year coach Justin Timmerman would have liked (he didn’t have a say in it), but their improvement is legitimate. They beat quality opponents in Park Vista (twice), Wellington and Palm Beach Gardens this season (Jupiter beat each of those teams as well, for the record).

“The turnaround’s been drastic,” Timmerman said. “The whole mentality is different.

“They know they’re underdogs, but they have the confidence to play with a team like Jupiter.”

If No. 6 Boca Raton wants to prove its more than just a nice story, the Bobcats will have to take on a Jupiter team with realistic title hopes. The Warriors (22-6, No. 3 in the area) went winless in three tries against Palm Beach Central, but were dominant otherwise.

The biggest reason for Jupiter’s success was its pitching depth, which has become even more valuable recently. The Warriors have been hit by injuries and could be without Brandon Hagan and Sean Danek, both of whom have back injuries. Hagan, who was expected to be the team ace this season, did not play at all in the district championship game. Even when he does not pitch, Hagan is a very good hitter, and the absence of his bat will also hurt Jupiter if he does not play.

Hagan and Danek will be game-time decisions. Alex Greener is unlikely to be available after starting last Friday.

Nonetheless, Warriors coach Doug Ferguson has a very viable option in Vinnie Contaldi, who has not lost this season. If Contaldi struggles, Ferguson won’t hesitate to turn to senior Kurt Schluter, even though Schluter would be a logical choice to start a potential second-round game.

“We know we can’t take it two games at a time,” Ferguson said. “We do have the luxury of having guys ready right away. If anybody gets in the slightest bit of trouble, we’ll be ready to have the next guy in there.

“Our kids want badly another chance at Palm Beach Central because of the way we lost that game, but we know we cannot look ahead. Boca’s a good team and we started preparing for them on Saturday.”

This game is going to be played at Florida Atlantic, which will not be an uncomfortable stage for either team. Boca Raton played there three times this year, and Jupiter played two games at spacious Roger Dean Stadium. Expect big crowds for both sides.

Prediction: Jupiter.

It will big a boost if Hagan can hit, but even if he doesn’t, the Warriors have enough talent at the plate and on the mound to win this game. They might struggle a little offensively, but Boca Raton will too. With Contaldi and Schluter both available for Jupiter, the Bobcats will not be able to hit consistently enough to win.

Predictions for other local games:

Class 5A

South Fork over Satellite

West Boca Raton over Port St. Lucie

Class 4A

Okeechobee over Rockledge

Merritt Island over Fort Pierce Westwood

Class 3A

John Carroll over Frostproof

Cardinal Newman over Coral Springs Charter

Plantation-American Heritage over St. Andrew’s

Class 2A

American Heritage over Calvary Christian

Summit Christian over Highlands Christian

Class 1A

Trinity Christian over Boca Raton Christian

Lake Worth Christian over Community Christian

Check back tomorrow to see how many of those I got right. If you’re feeling brave, feel free to post your predictions as well. Or just criticize my picks if that’s easier. Go nuts.