Posted: 3:29 pm Friday, April 15th, 2011

Baseball: Atlantic plays underdog in 9-6A tournament 

By Matt Porter

Atlantic coach Steve Wilson has a game plan for every possible opponent in the District 9-6A tournament, but he’s not the only one in his program scouting and scheming.

“The kids are funny,” Wilson said. “Everyone has a different team they want to play. I tell them the same thing. Let the baseball gods determine who we play. We win, and we’ll see who we’ll play. You worry about winning the game.”

Three hours before their last district game of the season, against Royal Palm Beach, the Eagles were grabbing a pregame snack at a Wendy’s in Delray Beach. Wilson stood outside, letting them enjoy themselves without the coach around.

“Nobody wants to play Jupiter,” Wilson said, recalling his teams’ bus-ride banter. “That hasn’t come up yet. I will tell you everyone else would prefer not to face Kyle Smith. Everyone else, we feel we can compete against.”

After tonight, the Eagles will be seeded anywhere from fifth to seventh in the 9-6A bracket, meaning they’ll face either Jupiter, Palm Beach Central, Santaluces or Palm Beach Gardens, which are locked into the top four seeds. Despite having a losing record (8-13), the Eagles opened eyes when they beat then-No. 1 Palm Beach Central 9-1 on March 29.

Atlantic hopes to give the ball to Spencer Kasmere in round two. (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Atlantic hopes to give the ball to Spencer Kasmere in round two. (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

That night, ace Nick Garito struck out 10 in a complete-game effort, the Eagles played strong defense and pounded 12 hits. If they put together that effort behind Garito (4-1, 1.75 , 48 K in 40 IP) in the first round, they could be on to the second round with Palm Beach State signee Spencer Kasmere, a hard-throwing 6-foot-4, 180-pounder who also plays first base.

The Eagles’ lineup was mashing against Central, and it’s been strong all season. Leadoff man Kyle Blank, a junior who arrived from Ocala over the offseason, is batting .433 and is seemingly always on base. The team has received a boost from senior shortstop Anthony Mazzaccari (.349), who has come back from a severely sprained ankle. They have a strong 3-4-5 in strong-armed junior right fielder Rigo Beltran (.400), Kasmere (team-high .436) and hard-hitting senior catcher Austin Brailey (4 HR, 17 RBI).

Atlantic also has more endurance than any team around: they outlasted Park Vista, 4-3, in a 15-inning game that took nearly a month to complete.

No matter who they draw, the Eagles will hit, hope they don’t kick the ball around, and rely on Garito. And hey, Wilson said, “if we pull Santaluces, if we pull Jupiter, we’ll go after them. I have full confidence in my two pitchers, and if we play the game the right way, we’ve got a shot.”

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