By STEVE JACKSON
Baseball, the national pastime, has made its return to the five South Shore high schools. With Sumner High’s excruciating loss to Newsome 67-65 in last week’s state basketball playoffs, the hoop season is finally over for all squads in the South Shore. Now, the days are getting a bit longer and the temperature hotter and more humid. The pros are gathered all around Florida to shape up their diamond magic at annual MLB Spring Training. And, of course, the amateur ballplayers in the South Shore have limbered up their arms. The batters are looking to make meaningful contact with every pitch. The five South Shore baseball head coaches opened practice earlier this month in an effort to determine their most formidable starting nine. As of Feb. 20, all will have at least one game under their belt with some 22 more contests on tap as the playoffs roll around later this spring.
The Lennard High Longhorns have a veteran baseball coach in Victor Martinez. A longtime assistant to former Lennard coach Kennedy Duran, Martinez has all the know-how for building winning teams. Last year the Longhorns went 17-6 after a so-so 9-13 first-year record for Martinez, once Coach Duran headed east to the Sumner challenge. This season Lennard is looking for a little more. It remains to be seen if the Horns can maintain the starting pitching and bullpen to have another winning season. The Longhorns registered a 5-3 win over the Osceola Warriors with big senior Carter Payne having a decent start on the mound last week. Senior Trey Miranda and soph RJ Torres are expected to provide consistent hitting. Freshman Mikie Locke jumped out to a hot start against Osceola, knocking out three hits and scoring one run. Lennard tangles this week with Jefferson High, prior to hitting the road to square off with 0-2 Spoto High Feb. 23. The Horns then welcome Plant City for a diamond duel at Ruskin next Tuesday, Feb. 28. All games start at 7 p.m.
The Spoto Spartans dropped two games last week in opening play. Under Head Coach Stephan Knight, Spoto fell short 4-2 versus Tampa Bay Tech and then lost 6-4 against Riverview Sharks to open the season. Coach Knight has a few fairly decent young players but must establish a winning atmosphere. The Spartans were 3-17 last year and have not enjoyed a winning season for 14 years. One pitcher being counted on by Coach Knight is junior Peyton Nisy, who pitched okay in the Tampa Bay Tech loss, but Spoto could never mount much offense against TBT, only collecting two hits in the loss. Freshman Anthony Alicea showed promise as he relieved Nisy and struck out a pair while walking one. The Spartans played Middleton early this week, then engage favored Lennard at home this Thursday, Feb. 23, at 7 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Riverview Sharks are looking for the third year to be the charm under Head Coach Jason Smith. The Sharks have been known for fielding good baseball teams through the years in the past. Coach Smith slipped from a 12-12 record in his first season to a disappointing 7-16 mark last year. The Sharks feature veteran senior infielder Farah Castillo, who continues to make progress with the bat to go along with his base running skills to provide the offensive impetus for the Sharks to climb back over .500. Three juniors, Dominic Terrell, Elijah Tishman and Anthony Jacquez, could also provide some punch to boost the Sharks. Riverview notched its first win of the new season last week, topping Spoto 6-4 after grinding out a tie game 6-6 with East Bay. Three straight home games offer the Sharks the opportunity to get fat at home. First up was Steinbrenner High early this week on Monday. Then East Bay visits for a neighborhood brawl Feb. 23, prior to the visit from the Newsome Wolves next Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. On March 2, Riverview heads to Tampa to play Robinson High.
East Bay features an unusual record in the early going. The Indians are 0-0-2 in their opening games last week. Coach Rowland Ruiz is counting on his team’s bats to break the unusual monotony of the two straight 6-6 tie games with Riverview and Tampa Bay Tech. Armwood High, already 1-0, came to Big Bend Road early this week for Coach Ruiz’ first chance to win a game this season. Then it is the Battle of the Bay at 7 p.m. on Feb. 23 against rival Riverview. South Shore rival Sumner High visits next Tuesday, Feb. 28, for another opportunity for the Indians to improve last year’s 9-13 mark. Coach Ruiz is looking to sophomores Rory Beauford and Jacob Bendever, along with a pair of juniors, Domanick Roush and Reilly Kinney, and senior Kayleb Wright to heat up at the plate for the Indians. Senior Jacob Beams and soph John Viane are counted on to hold the opposition at bay in the meantime from the pitcher’s mound.
Sumner High and its veteran Head Coach Kennedy Duran are looking to make Coach Duran’s third season at the new school end with Sumner’s first winning season. Sumner was 3-15 in its debut season and 9-13 last season under Duran. The Stingrays were looking for their first victory in their opening game this week at King High 0-1.
Bloomingdale visits Sumner Friday, Feb. 24, to make the Stingrays’ home opener. Next Tuesday, Sumner travels to East Bay. On Thursday, March 2, Tampa Bay Tech challenges the ‘Rays at Sumner. (Separate articles on Sumner High baseball are featured every week in the ObserverNews.net print & digital.)