Posted: 4:36 pm Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Baseball: Can Palm Beach Central make a 9-6A repeat without Poyner? 

By Matt Porter

Let’s get this out of the way first: losing Bobby Poyner is a huge blow to Palm Beach Central’s tournament hopes.

Mitch Blakeney is the Broncos' No. 1 heading into the 9-6A tournament. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

Mitch Blakeney is the Broncos' No. 1 heading into the 9-6A tournament. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

As you know, Poyner, the Broncos’ ace, has been shut down for the season and just had shoulder surgery. He was a lock to start Central’s opening game in the District 9-6A playoffs, then come back and pitch either the semifinal or final. His name is always dropped when discussing the pitching riches in Palm Beach County. 

Having Poyner (6-1, 1.91 ERA, 51 strikeouts in 40.1 innings) meant the Broncos could employ senior right-hander Mitch Blakeney against another team’s No. 2 starter, which would be a favorable matchup for them in most cases. Now, the load is on Blakeney (5-2, 3.05, 27 strikeouts in 39 innings) and junior relievers Lance Stiles, a lefty, right-handers Shawn Murray, Brady Roberson and other arms to hold opposing lineups in check. 

That doesn’t mean it’s all over for Central, the two-time 9-6A defending champion. Far from it. This team went 6-2 in the district, and while Poyner was a huge contributor (batting .394 when he wasn’t on the hill), a return to the district final isn’t out of the question. 

Luckily for the Broncos, they have a young lineup that matches up with any in the district. Leadoff man Gage Morey, a sophomore center fielder, is batting .380 and has been a good table-setter. Senior second baseman Joey Stark (team-best .404) hits wherever he’s placed in the lineup. Sophomore third baseman Ian Hagenmiller (.377, 16 RBI) has a thick (6-foot, 210-pound) frame and hits the ball hard. Roberson (.377, team-high 3 HR, 20 RBI) has been producing in the cleanup spot all season. Freshman shortstop Danny Hernandez, Alex’s brother, is hitting .353. Senior DH Jordan Brinson and senior left fielder John Magner each have gone yard twice this year. Late in the order, junior catcher Hunter Morey and junior right fielder Gabe Martinez can move things along.

Senior second baseman Joey Stark is batting .404 and playing stellar D. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

Senior second baseman Joey Stark is batting .404 and playing stellar D. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

Central’s two district losses came to Santaluces’ Kyle Smith and Atlantic’s Nick Garito. Both pitchers had their best stuff and both had help from their defense. They’ve put up 22 runs in a game (in a 24-22 loss to Gainesville-Buchholz), a total that coach Scott Benedict admitted was helped along by darkening conditions (Palm Beach Central’s field does not have lights). Hard to catch when you can’t see the ball. 

In conditions light and dark, Central, like most teams, has had its share of flubs, but that hasn’t been a concern down the stretch. The double-play combo of Hernandez and Stark has been outstanding at times, and neither has a problem getting dirty. The outfield has been solid as well.

Aside from Poyner, Stark, Blakeney, Roberson, Magner, Hagenmiller and Hunter Morey started on last year’s team, which finished 23-6 last season and lost in the first round of the regionals. The Broncos could certainly make a return – first step is beating Park Vista Tuesday in the 7-vs.-2 matchup – but they’ll need that offense to provide the big inning it always seems to. 

Pitching is a concern, but to expect Blakeney and Co. to fold is to go against a tenet of playoff baseball: those with much to prove, often do. 

Veteran Broncos coach Scott Benedict (center) will need everyone to contribute if his team is to repeat as 9-6A champs. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

Veteran Broncos coach Scott Benedict (center) will need everyone to contribute if his team is to repeat as 9-6A champs. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

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