Pitching at a Premium In District Tournament
Sun. April 22, 2012 at 9:01 p.m. | By Blake Hasenzahl
Lake Region High School's Scott Campbell (14) mishandles a ball as George Jenkins High School's Ryan Terlap (22) slides into second during the second inning of their Class 7A, District 7 game at George Jenkins High School. April 13, 2012. (Photo by Michael Wilson | THE LEDGER)
By BLAKE HASENZAHL
Lakeland, Haines City, Ridge, Lake Region, George Jenkins and Bartow are setting new standards for defensive baseball, and it's made Polk County an inhospitable place for opposing hitters. No team in the district lacks a dominant ace.
And now they'll have to battle it out for the Class 7A, District 7 championship starting today at Henley Field in Lakeland.
The best Polk has to offer on the mound will be on full display. The only teams that seem to have any sort of advantage could be Haines City and Lakeland, which will each have a day off today to practice.
However, that may not be a good thing.
"If you play the first and have a great game, you can carry some great momentum into playing us or Haines City," Lakeland head coach Bob Gendron said.
Aces on each staff have combined for over 15 wins this season, more than any other district in Polk.
Haines City has three guys who can get it done on the mound. Rob Whalen and Juan Hillman can be aided in relief by Dalton Scarbrough. With starting pitching at a premium, Scarbrough may make the difference.
"Runs will be at a premium in this district because every team has good pitching," Haines City head coach David Schafer said. "Our big advantage is that we have good relief pitching. If a guy is struggling we have no hesitation to go to the bullpen.
Teams can throw hard in this, there are great breaking ball pitchers, everyone can bunt well, and pitchers can control the tempo well. We also have very good coaching in this district."
It was a mutual feeling amongst all coaches that the two teams that make it out of the district will have been tested enough to succeed in the playoffs.
Lakeland may struggle if they make it to the finals as Brad Labozzetta will be pitching Tuesday night. The Dreadnaughts are 3-1 against Haines City this season with Labozzetta on the mound each game. The only loss was was a 3-2 defeat in Haines City.
All Saints' Academy (16-8) may have the easiest road to the playoffs out of any team in Polk. The Saints are automatically in the district finals. They will play either Victory Christian or Sonrise Christian. All Saints hasn't surrendered a run to either team in a combined four meetings this season. The Saints outscored district opponents 74-0 during the regular season.
Santa Fe, Fort Meade, Lakeland Christian and McKeel will go at it in class 3A, District 7. Santa Fe has one of the best hitters in the county in Evan Barnes and a great base runner in Chris Nattania. Barnes finished the season with a .531 batting average. Nattania swiped 15 bases.
Winter Haven is loaded to make another playoff run with both Luke and Levi Borders and Tyler Pike hitting the ball well this season. They have to get past Kathleen, Sebring and Lake Gibson.
Lake Wales, Tenoroc, Auburndale and Hardee will be competing in Class 5A, District 10 at Tenoroc.