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Lions The Leading Candidates To Be Kings Of District 12-3A

The King’s Academy Lions before a preseason game against Chaminade-Madonna

The King’s Academy Lions have come a long way as a program during coach Doug Magaw’s tenure, and now this team is ready to contend for much more than a district title. This group wants the school’s third state title.

“The kids are willing to do what it takes,” King’s Academy coach Doug Magaw said. “We understand that teams aren’t looking past us. We put the pressure on ourselves anyway.”

Last season, King’s fell to Westminster Christian in the Class 2A regional finals, and the majority of the team returns hungry for a chance to get to that next level.

This is not to say that the team is overlooking anyone on its very tough schedule, as it knows that any team can beat anyone else on any given day.

With Glades Day and young and rebuilding, and Jupiter Christian lacking the depth it may need to compete for the district title, the Lions know their biggest district adversary will be rival Benjamin.

“It’s hard to call it a rivalry when they’ve taken care of business,” Benjamin coach Brian Kaplan said. “They’re an extremely well-run and disciplined program, but we’ve gotten it closer the last few years.”

The Buccaneers return perhaps their strongest team in school history, which is deep in pitching and hungry to break their losing streak to the Lions. But as Kaplan admits, first they have to prove themselves by going out and doing it.

Glades Day and Jupiter Christian continue their own school rivalry, which has not lacked any of its punch despite the programs’ growing pains in recent seasons.

“We love our new district this year,” said Jupiter Christian coach Dave Loud. “It’s us and our three biggest rivals now. There will not be a big difference between the number one seed and the number four seed.”

Head Coach: Brian Kaplan
2011 record: 8-17
Returners: Christian Berger (LF); Cody Ruedisili (CF); D.J. Paone (RF); A.J. Alevizos (2B); Bennett Sousa (LHP); Jon Pavlov (RHP); Matt Harris (RHP/SS); Chad Swift (IF)
Newcomers: Brian Dolan (C)
Strengths: Pitching and veteran experience

“We don’t want the district title to be handed to us. We are up against the best of the best and we want to earn it,” Benjamin coach Brian Kaplan said.

Benjamin coach Brian Kaplan does not want to count his chickens before they are hatched, but he knows this is not your typical Buccaneers team this year. No longer is this a young team. The physical preparations in the offseason are done, and they are mentally tougher now. They are ready to compete and close out games.

Traditionally the school has not been recognized for its baseball program, and in recent years, the team was young. But this year they are experienced and have an opportunity to be competitive. For a program that has not advanced out of the district tournament since 1994, the players are eager to give this their best shot at ending that playoff drought.

“Benjamin is tough as nails,” King’s Academy coach Doug Magaw said. “We don’t discount anybody, especially a team like that.”

The Bucs pitchers are the strength of the team, starting with sophomore lefty Bennett Sousa, who is already 6-foo-3, throws in the upper 80s and follows it with an impressive change-up. He already is being considered by the University of Virginia and the University of Florida.

Right-hander Jon Pavlov is the team’s number-two pitcher and is a tri-sport guy who also plays football and basketball. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound ace relies primarily on his curveball and his change-up. Junior righty Matt Harris is Benjamin’s number-three pitcher, while also serving as the team’s starting shortstop. Already Harris is being recruited by Winthrop and Jacksonville University.

“Since our defense is young, our guys need to step up early and create a tempo offensively,” Coach Kaplan said. “We need to work good counts with our pitchers.”

Benjamin has some key additions that improve their infield defense, such as new starting catcher Brian Dolan. Dolan transferred to the school from Martin County this season and he has been a huge help defensively. He has been working with assistant coach Brook Fordyce and he has been impressive this spring, while also being a blue-collar worker and an overall scrappy player.

Another key piece returns in senior second baseman A.J. Alevizos, who missed all of last season with elbow injuries. He is an experienced player who knows the game and will be a leader.

“Our pitching allows us to play fundamental baseball, and as long as our defense takes charge and makes plays we will be successful,” Benjamin coach Brian Kaplan said.

The Bucs outfield is pretty impressive, led by senior left fielder Christian Berger, who is considering walking-on at Georgetown next year. Kaplan says he may be one of the best outfielders in the area.

Also roaming the outfield is center fielder Cody Ruedisili, who batted .430 last season and also had more than 20 stolen bases. Junior D.J. Paone, who has already verbally committed to Elon, will handle right field.

In all, Benjamin knows it has a good chance of earning what it wants and the team is ready to play its tougher schedule and see if it can hang with these other great programs.

“We don’t want the district title to be handed to us,” Kaplan said. “We are up against the best of the best and we want to earn it.”

Glades Day
Head Coach: Mike Underwood
2011 record: 8-12
Returners: Jesse Barton Jr. (P); Colton Coates (1B); John Barr (3B/P); Luis Ruiz (2B)
Newcomers: Brett Marshall (C)
Strengths: Middle infield defense

“These BBCOR bats will make a big difference, and being that we’re young it may help us keep the ball in the park and use our speed on the bases,” Glades Day coach Mike Underwood said.

Some of the Glades Day hitters began using the new BBCOR bats during the fall, and now all of the team is confronted with the reality that it has been a big difference for them from last year. The bat can still do the same thing to the ball, but it does not come as easily anymore.

Gators coach Mike Underwood has his young hitters focusing on keeping the ball in the yard and not trying to swing for the fences on every pitch. With a young group like this, the coach knows that they have a better chance in putting guys on the bases and moving them around with their speed.

“These BBCOR bats will make a big difference, and being that we’re young, it may help us keep the ball in the park and use our speed on the bases,” Glades Day coach Mike Underwood said.

The Gators are low in numbers this year, and Underwood admits the team has a long way to go to begin challenging for the district title. But the coach is optimistic about the enthusiasm and work ethic they have shown.

Senior first baseman Colton Coates returns to anchor the lineup after he led the team in hitting last year with a batting average over .400. Returning second baseman Luis Ruiz also adds a reliable bat to the order.

Leading the pitching will be senior John Barr, who also will take the duties at the hot spot at third base, and junior Jesse Barton, who is pitching well enough to be the team’s number one in the rotation.

Glades Day also has received a boost to its already-solid middle defense with the addition of senior catcher Brett Marshall, who transferred from Moore Haven.

“He has a strong arm and could be one of the better defensive catchers in the area,” Underwood said.

Coach Underwood has been coaching for 20 years and he’s seen a lot of changes over the years. But he is excited for the team’s new district, and he likes its chances in a district with less teams than it has been a part of in years past.

“Our biggest trouble will come when we need to find a young guy to play the infield when one of those guys is pitching,” Underwood joked.

Jupiter Christian’s Andrew Morgan

Jupiter Christian
Head Coach: Dave Loud
2011 record: 5-18
Returners: Brandon Cormier (RHP); Tony Ballew (1B); Eric Burke (CF); Brandon Collins (OF/C); Andrew Morgan (SS); Steven Devine (3B/UT); Jon Shuba (RHP);
Newcomers: Cristean Acuna (RHP); Clay Walker (3B/C)
Strengths: Veteran Experience

“We love our new district this year,” said Jupiter Christian coach Dave Loud. “Every game with these teams is always close and competitive.”

The 2012 Jupiter Christian Eagles present a good mix of youth and veteran leadership, and the program is excited to compete in their new district against the school’s three biggest rivals.

“We love our new district this year,” said Jupiter Christian coach Dave Loud. “Every game with these teams is always close and competitive. Our mindset is different with them because we know anything can happen.”

Jupiter Christian knows they have a great opportunity this year, and they simply have to work and execute in order to be successful. With only 13 players on the team, it will also be incredibly crucial that the players stay healthy.

The Eagles are counting on the team’s veteran leadership and experience to lead them this year, as the squad returns seven starts and six seniors this season, all of whom have played together in this program for the past four seasons. They have logged a lot of varsity playing time and they have shown that they play well together as a unit.

“We are also excited about our younger guys with all of their speed and ability to steal bases,” Loud said. “These guys can run and we are very aggressive on the base paths. We may not move station to station so easily, but we can move guys on the bases and we can score runs.”

At the helm of the returning group is senior right-hander Brandon Cormier, the team’s ace starting pitcher who features a strong fastball, curveball and a changeup.

“The team has a lot of confidence when he pitches,” Loud said. “When we hand him the ball we know we have a shot to win every time. That is huge for a small school like ours that has low numbers to build a team from.”

The team’s offensive leader is senior first baseman Tony Ballew, who moves across the diamond after playing primarily at third base last year. Ballew has the ability to hit for both power and average, and he is also a major threat to steal bases. The Eagles typically bat him in the pivotal number-three spot in the order, but he also provides a spark in the leadoff spot, as his performances last year showed after hitting over .400 with eight home runs and 15 stolen bases.

Batting in the clean-up spot is senior centerfield Eric Burke, who is an excellent contact hitter and who rarely strikes out.

Defensively, senior shortstop Andrew Morgan is a team leader who solidifies the entire infield. The fourth-year player is a team leader who knows the game well, and he has committed to play at Anderson University in South Carolina next year. The team also relies on their athletic senior catcher in Brandon Collins, who has a strong arm and who makes good decisions, and their versatile third baseman, senior Steven Devine, who fills a large utility role by filling in it multiple positions around the field.

Another solid defensive addition this season comes in Jensen Beach transfer Clay Walker, a sophomore who will split time at catcher and third base. Walker is a hard worker with a great attitude, with a nice arm and solid mechanics.

Rounding out the Eagles rotation is junior Cristean Acuna, a right-handed transfer from Jupiter who has a good, live fastball and a curveball with a big break. However, Acuna will miss some time to start the season due to an ankle injury he recently sustained. Returning sophomore Jon Shuba will also be used heavily in the rotation, and he relies on his ability to locate in the zone and pound hitters with consistent strikes.

“High school baseball is often determined by errors, so the key is to just put the ball in play,” Loud said. “If we can play solid defense and pitch, we should be in every game because we do a good job at the plate.”

King’s Academy’s Nick Bates bats during a Saturday scrimmage.

King’s Academy
Head Coach: Doug Magaw
2011 record: 21-10
Returners: Matt Pisciottano (P); Kevin Stypulkowski (C); Troy Snider (P); Myles Basore (OF); Ryan Boyle (IF); Johnny Carpenter (P); Mark Zippin (RF)
Newcomers: Joe Gomez (IF)
Strengths: Offense, Defense and Veteran Experience

“We treat the 25 regular-season games like the preseason to get us ready for what comes next,” King’s Academy coach Doug Magaw said.

King’s Academy’s Doug Magaw knows that this is a veteran team with enough experience to get them back to the regional finals again. The Lions lost to Miami powerhouse Westminster Christian last year, and the goal now is to get the team over the hump. This group is hungry to bring the school its third state crown.

“We treat the 25 regular-season games like the preseason to get us ready for what comes next,” Magaw said. “We’re fortunate to have a committed staff that puts in a lot of hour with this team. We play a tough schedule, but when we show up to play and play the game we’re capable of, we are tough to beat.”

That’s not to say that the Lions take anyone lightly, least of all their district rivals. They just know what they bring back this year, a capable team that works hard and is proving that it is willing to earn it.

Leading this veteran group is the pitching and catching duo of seniors Matt Pisciottano and Kevin Stypulkowski, who have signed with Stetson and Florida, respectively, and who are both team captains.

Stypulkowski is a switch hitter who bats for average and power, and is capable of playing any position in the field. He has been starting on varsity at King’s Academy since eighth grade. Along with his dangerous bat, Stypulkowski is excellent defensively, including last year when he caught 15 of 18 runners.

Pisciottano will be the team’s ace this season, and the senior has a curveball and slider to go along with his two-seam fastball. This offseason, he raised his velocity nearly 10 miles per hour, something he attributes to a big reason why he was recruited by the Hatters.

The Lions’ third team captain is junior outfielder John Carpenter, who has been starting for the team since he was in seventh grade.

“When I got here five years ago, the pipeline was kind of empty and we took our lickings,” Magaw admitted. “But it was part of the process that built us.”

Throwing in relief behind Pisciottano is fellow senior Troy Snider, who has proven to be another worthy arm that opposing hitters always seem unable to hit well.

The King’s Academy Lions gather around coach Doug Magaw following a Saturday scrimmage.

“He throws mostly off-speed stuff, and he just gets guys out,” Magaw said. “He gets lots of flyouts and groundouts. It’s hard to hit squarely off of him.”

A key cog to the team’s lineup is its number-two hitter, right fielder Mark Zippin. Magaw says he is a hitter who does everything, a guy who hits well behind runners.

Another key addition this spring is junior Joe Gomez, who transferred in from Palm Beach Central. He has shown great hands and plus speed for this already dangerous lineup.

“We have a lot of talented young kids, but we know they haven’t been playing,” Magaw said. “It will all come down to if our young pitchers play at the level we need to compete.”

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