Posted: 1:57 pm Friday, April 20th, 2012

Baseball district tournament previews: Favorites, contenders and bracket breakdowns 

By Matt Porter

This, as is often said, is what they play for.

Everyone has a chance in the district tournaments, where the last two teams will advance to the regional playoffs. Some districts are loaded — 9-8A the most so — while some three-team districts already have one team in the final.

Park Vista (in white) and Palm Beach Central (maroon) are considered favorites in their districts. (Brandon Kruse/The Palm Beach Post)

Park Vista (in white) and Palm Beach Central (maroon) are considered favorites in their districts. (Brandon Kruse/The Palm Beach Post)

Tournaments begin Monday. Here’s what to expect:

Note: All player stats as of April 14, 2012

DISTRICT 9-8A

Monday
5. Wellington at 4. Palm Beach Gardens, 7

at Jupiter
Tuesday
3. Dwyer vs. 2. Jupiter, 7
Wednesday
Wellington/Palm Beach Gardens winner vs. 1. Palm Beach Central, 7
Thursday
Final, 7

Favorite: The tightest and most talented district in the area. Any two of the five teams could make the final. Palm Beach Central is the favorite because of its No. 1 seed, earned during the final week of district play. The Broncos are perhaps the deepest team in the group, with a lineup featuring a 3-4-5 of Gators signee Brady Roberson (3 HR and 22 RBI), junior Miami commit Ian Hagenmiller and Gabe Martinez (.456). Central has two strong starters in senior lefty John Padich (6-1, 2.32, 44 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings) and sophomore Jorge Alfonso (5-2, 2.05 in 44 1/3 innings). Their coach, Scott Benedict, has for years been one of the area’s best.

Contenders: Jupiter has been one of the area’s best teams all season long, beating every team in the district at least once. However, the Warriors have slipped up in games against Benjamin, Jensen Beach and last week, district games against Wellington and Palm Beach Central, which lost them the top seed. They squeaked by Dwyer 8-7 in their last meeting (April 3) on a go-ahead homer by Pat Walther. Expect another battle this time. Jupiter has good pitching depth — Lance Fry, Victor Gonzalez and Kyle Keatts are a combined 11-1, all sporting ERAs under 2.75 – and a productive lineup anchored by Walther (.435, 3 HR) and junior Ronnie Healy (.357, 2 HR, 22 RBI). Like many teams, the Warriors are in trouble if their defense doesn’t show up.

Dwyer has a streaky offense, but has as good a shot as any team in this district. Senior Bradley Emery has been the Panthers’ most consistent starter (4-2, 1.92 in 40 innings), while junior Cheyne Bickel (2-2, 2.75, 44 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings) can be dominant. The Panthers’ secret weapon is freshman lefty Tom Szapucki, who despite his inexperience has overpowering stuff. Offensively, Dwyer has blazing-fast senior Jamal Martin (.373, 2 HR) hitting second, in front of senior sluggers Tim Lynch (.460, 3 HR) and Hunter Hope (.383, 4 HR).

Palm Beach Gardens has a tougher road, needing to burn pitching in a play-in game against scrappy Wellington. Gardens doesn’t have a front-line ace, but senior lefty Brooks de Montluzin (3-3, 2.75 in 40 2/3 innings) and junior Joey Boyd (2-3, 2.69, 53 strikeouts in 28.2 innings) have been strong. The Gators’ strength is their lineup. Senior James Jean (.373, area-best 6 HR and 30 RBI) has had a breakout season, and there are several capable bats around him.

Wellington is the fifth seed, but it can’t be taken lightly. Hidden in the Wolverines’ 8-14 record are wins against Gardens, King’s Academy, Jupiter and West Boca Raton. They can play. Wellington’s three seniors — shortstop Jared Tosner, pitcher/center fielder David Koos and third baseman Peter Rivera, a Miami commit – are relied on by a program which lost eight starters to graduation.

DISTRICT 10-8A

at Park Vista
Monday
5. John I. Leonard vs. 4. Seminole Ridge, 7
Tueday
3. Boca Raton vs. 2. Spanish River, 4:30
John I. Leonard/Seminole Ridge winner vs. 1. Park Vista, 7
Thursday
Final, 7

Favorite: Park Vista hasn’t lost a district game yet, and it looks like it will finish the season like that. The Cobras are the class of this group and could be on their way to making another deep playoff run. They have the pieces: a future Division I ace (FAU-bound lefty Brandon Rhodes, 9-1, 0.91, 66 strikeouts in 53.6 innings), a deep lineup (four players batting .365 or better) and possibly the area’s best defense, which is most solid up the middle. Park Vista boasts Div. I players at catcher (Robbie Coman, Virginia), shortstop (Tyler Kendall, Penn State), second base (Brett Lashley, Stetson), third base (Shane Bussey, Maine) and potentially center field (uncommitted junior Trey Amburgey). Its pitching depth isn’t outstanding, but that shouldn’t be a concern next week.

Contenders: Two intra-city rivals back in the same district, Spanish River and Boca Raton split their season series and meet in the semifinals with a regional berth on the line. River will gladly use senior Mike Chambers (4-4, 2.07, 53 strikeouts in 54 innings) in any big game. Chambers, who has been River’s ace for two years, pitched eight innings of one-run ball in the Sharks’ April 11 win over Boca. River depends on offense from Emerson Dresser and Luca Rispoli, who is also a quality pitcher. First-year Boca coach Jeff Rosa has a talented club, but the Bobcats haven’t found consistency on the mound or at the plate. Before Wednesday’s 1-0 win over West Boca Raton, they were 2-7 in their last nine, losing once (Park Vista) by more than three runs.

DISTRICT 14-7A

at West Boca Raton
Monday
3. Olympic Heights vs. 2. West Boca Raton, 6:30
Tuesday
4. Lake Worth vs. 1. Atlantic, 6:30
Thursday
Final, 6:30

Favorite: Atlantic has more than enough depth to handle Lake Worth, (which has gone 2-20 in coach Mike Teman’s first year). Atlantic went on a 12-game winning streak earlier that included a tournament win over then-No. 1 Summit Christian. The Eagles will use two strong senior lefties: Sam Bergida (7-1, 1.42, 37 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings) and Rigo Beltran (6-2, 2.09, 48 strikeouts in 47 innings) and the top of their lineup features right fielder Joey Ohannesian (.381), center fielder Jesse Kieffer (.354), Beltran (.354, 15 RBI) and catcher Brad Myott (.369, 22 RBI).

Contender: West Boca Raton will miss former ace Parker Danciu, who left the team last week, but that’s more of a problem for regionals. They should be able to take care of Olympic Heights, which has two of , and get to the district final. West Boca will lean on senior Matt Warren (6-4, 1.78, 63 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings) and an offense led by junior catcher Michael Barash, (.500, second-best among large schools) and senior outfielder Ryan Owens (.431).

DISTRICT 13-7A

at Santaluces
Tuesday
3. Forest Hill vs. 2. Santaluces, 6:30
4. Palm Beach Lakes vs. 1. Royal Palm Beach, 6:30
Thursday
Final, 6:30

Favorite: Royal Palm Beach is on track for its first regional appearance since 2001. The Wildcats reached 20 wins in their second year under coach Brian Joros, who in previous stops made winners out of Boynton Beach and West Boca. He’ll enjoy saving ace Justin Lauginiger (8-0, 1.13, 61 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings) for the district final. Lauginiger, a junior, has upper-80s heat and throws a biting slider. Leadoff man Christopher Barr (.400, 27 steals) is one of the fastest players in Florida and will head to Palm Beach State next year. If both those players are on, the Wildcats should win the district title.

Contenders: Should be a good one between Santaluces and Forest Hill, with both teams throwing down aces. It’ll be Santaluces lefty Hunter Kyzar (5-3, 1.18, 45 strikeouts 47 1/3 innings) against Forest Hill righty Mike Murray (1.95, area-best 9-0 and 102 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings), with a spot in the district final — and an automatic regional berth — on the line. Neither Santaluces (2005) nor Forest Hill (2007) has made regionals in a few years.

Both pitchers have racked up strikeouts this season by throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters. Kyzar, who pitches to contact, is in good shape if his defense is helping him. Murray comes after hitters, and Santaluces coach Nick Franco said his team will try to be the aggressor. “If he strikes out 10-plus, it’s going to be difficult for us to win,” Franco said. “If he has less than 10, that means we’re putting pressure on the defense. We’re going up to the plate swinging.”

Neither team has a bopper, but both teams have hitters who can make contact. Both Kyzar (.436, 18 RBI) and Murray (.420) can hit. Santaluces has several capable bats in Ernie Cabrera (.392, 19 RBI), Dominic Teresi (.391), Doug Wright (.373) and Zack Salvidar (.357, 18 RBI). Forest Hill’s Brayan Ofarrill (.600) leads the area in hitting and has 16 RBI. The Falcons’ lineup has plenty of other good sticks, most notably Jose Crespo (.450), Ryan Mahoney (.419) and Juan Garces (.413).

Offensively, Forest Hill may have a slight advantage, but Santaluces has more pitching depth. No. 2 man Peter Strzelecki (1-2, 1.80, 39 strikeouts in 35 innings) can spell Kyzar in relief or start a potential district title game.

DISTRICT 15-5A

Tuesday
4. Fort Pierce Westwood at 1. Jensen Beach, 7
3. Boynton Beach at 2. Suncoast, 7
Thursday
Final, 7

Favorite: Jensen Beach has been one of the strongest teams on the Treasure Coast, beating ranked teams in Jupiter and Benjamin and losing to Palm Beach Gardens. The Falcons have strong pitching, especially Taylor Blatch (6-0, 0.37, 49 strikeouts in 38 innings), who will likely be saved for a possible district final. JB can use Cre Finfrock (4-1, 1.58, 36 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings), Tyler Bauman (2-2, 2.58, 31 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings) or Alex Lamoreux (3-2, 2.70, 38 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings) against Westwood, if it chooses. Bauman (.396, 10 doubles) is the Falcons’ top hitter.

Contender: Suncoast beat Boynton Beach 12-2 in both meetings this season, each time getting to Boynton senior Ryan Tedesco (2-6, 2.17 57 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings). Suncoast junior Jack Granger (3-2, 1.19 in 31 1/3 innings) is the Chargers’ top starter. Junior catcher Troy Hoecker (.357) and Greg Poore (.364) are their top hitters.

DISTRICT 12-4A

At St. Andrew’s
Tuesday
Cardinal Newman vs. St. Andrew’s, 4
(pregame coin-toss will determine home and away teams)
Friday
Cardinal Newman/St. Andrew’s winner vs. 1. Lincoln Park, 4

Favorite: Lincoln Park has been cruising all season, so it looked like their spot in the regionals was a guarantee. Last week, the No. 4-seed to be, Glades Central, forfeited the remainder of its games, giving Lincoln Park an automatic berth in the district final. The Greyhounds have several arms who could do the job.

Contenders: St. Andrew’s has a good lineup with Florida signee Danny Young (.382, 4 HR, 19 RBI), who led the area in homers last year, David Lundberg (.390), Ronnie Rocca (.387, 19 RBI), Justin Valente (.365) and Zach Zehring (3 HR). On the mound, it’s all Young, who despite a 4-5 record leads small schools in strikeouts (75 in 49 2/3 innings) and has a 2.11 ERA. Lundberg (39 strikeouts) has shown the ability to get batters out. He wasn’t helped by his defense in a five-inning, 12-2 loss to Cardinal Newman on April 12. That loss earned Newman a split in the season series.

Cardinal Newman, which saw coach Jack Kokinda sit out a year due to health problems, has gone 8-14 so far under interim coach Daniel Prieto. Kokinda, who has more than 40 seasons and 700 wins to his credit, may return next season. Against St. Andrew’s, the Crusaders may start Dylan Gordon, who allowed two runs in the April 12 game. Junior catcher Kyle Cunningham had a two-run homer that night.

DISTRICT 13-3A

at American Heritage
Tuesday
3. Pope John Paul II vs. 2. Summit Christian, 7
Thursday
Pope John Paul II/Summit Christian winner vs. 1. American Heritage, 7

Favorite: Top-seeded American Heritage has an automatic berth in the district final (and regionals), and should have momentum from Thursday’s win over No. 1-ranked Palm Beach Central. FSU-bound lefty Dylan Silva pitched that game, allowing three runs in four innings, while sidearming reliever Josh Glick earned the win. Silva (3-2, 2.11, 39 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings) has started in both of Heritage’s wins over Summit this season. He will rest while the Stallions start FAU signee Dylan Arnold (5-2, 2.00, 46 strikeouts in 35 innings) in the final. Arnold uses a mid-to-upper-80s fastball with a strong curve and change. Senior first baseman Corey Cohen (.423), freshman infielder Jonathan India (.324, 12 RBI) and senior Chris Canavan (10 RBI) are most consistent bats in the Stallions’ lineup.

Contender: Summit Christian played Heritage close in both games, losing 6-1 and 5-4. Assuming they take care of Pope John Paul II – which won’t be a cakewalk with ace Connor Norton (38 strikeouts) on the mound, and a lineup boasting seven players hitting better than .350 – the Saints will probably use hard-throwing Anthony Delaney (5-1, 2.26, 69 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings) against Heritage. Expect senior lefty Sam Murphy (3-4, 1.80, 53 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings) to pitch against Pope. The Saints spent a brief time at No. 1 in the Post’s rankings, but had a few defensive lapses around spring break. Summit’s offense has been there all season. Catcher/first baseman Efren Sanchez (.455, 2 HR, 21 RBI), left fielder Shane Swanson (2 HR, 14 RBI) and center fielder Tyler Dupont (14 RBI) have the best stats, but the Saints have dangerous bats in third baseman/catcher John Silviano, Delaney and Murphy.

Most of Summit’s roster played in last year’s Class 1A state championship team, but Heritage has state title hopes of its own. It’s a good bet the teams will meet in the district final and again in regionals.

“It’s a very good rivalry,” Heritage coach Carm Mazza said. “It’s Yankees-Red Sox. We’re expecting them to come at us as hard as they can.”

DISTRICT 12-3A

at Roger Dean Stadium practice fields, Jupiter
Tuesday
1. King’s Academy vs. 4. Glades Day, 7
2. Benjamin vs. 3. Jupiter Christian, 7
Thursday
Final, 7

Favorite: King’s Academy got the better of Benjamin in their last meeting (the teams split the season series) so we’ll give the Lions the edge. Senior catcher Kevin Stypulkowski (.423, 24 RBI), a Florida signee, is the guy that makes them go. First baseman John Monte (3 HR) has come up with some clutch hits, including a homer in the Lions’ 11-inning win over the Bucs earlier this month. Senior Matt Pisciottano (37 strikeouts) is King’s ace, while freshman lefty Matt Tucker (1-1, 1.83 in 35 1/3 innings) has pitched well.

Contender: Benjamin, which hasn’t won a district title since 1994, looks to be in pretty good shape to do it this year. The key is sophomore lefty Bennett Sousa (3-2, 1.10, 44 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings), who has shut down some of the area’s better teams. Senior Jon Pavlov has an ERA under 1.00, while junior Matt Harris has a no-hitter against Jupiter Christian and a win over Jupiter to his credit. One-through-nine, the Bucs can hit. Harris (.416) is seemingly always on base, while Pavlov (.377) and right fielder D.J. Paone have shown pop. Center fielder Kody Ruedesili (.351) is aggressive in the leadoff spot.

DISTRICT 12-2A

At Boca Raton Christian
Tuesday
3. Wellington Christian vs. 2. Lake Worth Christian, 4
Thursday
Wellington Christian/Lake Worth Christian winner vs. 1. Boca Raton Christian, 4

Favorite: Boca Raton Christian went 2-0 in the district and is the only team to finish above .500 (10-8 entering Friday’s game against Berean Christian). The Blazers have no seniors but plenty of talented underclassmen, including fittingly named freshman Blaize McSweeney. Junior Jonathan Kreh has been a solid contributor.

Contenders: Wellington Christian wants to even the score against Lake Worth Christian, which entered Friday at 2-14 overall but scored a 7-2 win in their last meeting.

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