3A-14 District Tournament Preview
Host: Coral Springs Christian
Tuesday April 22nd (at Santaluces Sports Complex)
4:00 PM (7) Oxbridge Academy vs. (2) Coral Springs Christian
7:00 PM (6) Jupiter Christian vs. (3) Highlands Christian
7:00 PM (5) Lake Worth Christian vs. (4) Trinity Christian
Wednesday April 23rd
4:00 PM Lake Worth Christian/Trinity Christian winner vs. (1) Westminster Academy
Thursday April 24th
4:00 PM Oxbridge Academy/Coral Springs Christian winner vs. Highlands Christian/Jupiter Christian winner
Friday April 25th
4:00 PM Championship: Semifinal winners
Full Stats for 3A-14 can be found on the 3A-14 Stats Page!
*Broward Teams & Palm Teams
Overview – This is one of the toughest and most respectable brackets in the district playoffs. With this seven-team group seeding everyone into the playoffs, it has made the top seed invaluable in rewarding a first-round bye for its recipient, which this season is Westminster Academy. While the Lions automatically advance to the semifinals, every other squad must win three games to take home the district crown.
While the bracket creates a true playoff scenario that tests a team’s depth and fortitude, the quality of the teams within this field also make it a very intriguing scenario. There are several Major League prospects on these rosters, as well as a ton of future college players. The games during the regular season were typically close and very competitive, and one could only expect to see things get even tighter now that the season is on the line.
1. Westminster Academy – The Lions turned a few heads this season to sneak up and grab the top seed in the district. The team has gotten some great starting pitching and has played tremendous defense in support of that pitching, making it a tough win for every team they have faced this year. No one has been able to run away with wins against this club, and they have proven that they can contend in this tough bracket by sweeping their way to the top spot.
Leading the way on this club is senior left-hander Weston Clemente, who has proven himself as a big-game pitcher this year. The southpaw won some big district match ups and has led the club in essentially every statistical pitching category. Clemente went 8-0 this year, with five complete games and two shutouts. He struck out just under 70 batters in roughly 50 innings and has provided his team with a ton of confidence that they can win every time he has the ball.
The rest of the Lions staff has also risen up big this season. Trace Norkus, Frankie Corridori and Tommy Dorfman have all posted impressive numbers, as the team has pitched well enough to keep themselves in every game this season. The pitching has also helped to take some pressure off the offense, which has allowed them to come along at just the right pace.
“We’re not a team that’s going to bang it all over the yard usually, so when we get runners on we’ve got to manufacture,” said Lions Manager Nick James.
The Lions have excelled at getting big hits in key moments. Twins Josh and Jeremy Viveros have been the driving force at the plate, as they specialize at getting on base and scoring runs. Adding to this lineup has been the emergence of sophomore Thomas Messer and junior Gabe Delgado. With the playoffs now here, these fine young hitters have a great chance to make their mark with their club.
Westminster Academy is a program that has seen plenty of success over the years including a few state titles. Just a few seasons ago they were pulling guys from their middle school team just to field a team, and that experience is beginning to show from those same guys now. The team has a chance to add a new chapter to their legacy with a whole new crop of dedicated and capable players.
2. Coral Springs Christian Academy – It is hard to ignore the sheer talent that this team possesses, and they have earned the distinction as one of the favorites to win another district title this year. The team has weathered many storms throughout the year, overcoming the loss of team captain Devin Myer as well as working through numerous injuries that plagued them at the start of the season. The Crusaders have also learned to work past the distractions of high expectations and the presence of numerous MLB scouts at each game throughout the year.
Team leader Touki Toussaint is the primary reason why the Crusaders have gotten so much national attention, as the dynamic right-hander has dominated on the mound, at the plate and on the bases. This five-tool standout has posted big numbers to lead his club and has proven that he can take over a game at any moment. Toussaint led the team in wins and averaged nearly two strikeouts per inning wit an ERA well south of 1.00 for the season, while also hitting over .300 and leading the club in RBIs and extra-base hits.
Depth is also a big advantage for the Crusaders, where they have pitching it takes to win the three games in one week it will take to hoist a district championship trophy. Right-handers Eric Hepple and Jeremiah Muhammad have also posted great numbers on the season against some of the toughest lineups both locally and nationally.
The offensive formula has worked well mainly because each member of the lineup has learned how to produce by doing what each does best individually. As a unit the group hits well with one another, moving runners and executing fundamentals as necessary. The offense has plenty of power and speed, and they have listened to the coaching to make it all work according to their game plan.
Complimenting the team’s big-name hitters have many other equally talented producers. Consistent hitters such as Pemron Burrows and James Buckley have excelled at getting on base and keeping the chain moving, while Hepple, Joseph DePalo, Benito Santiago and Cary Boniske have done their part to drive them in and put runs on the scoreboard.
The Crusaders were one win away from their first trip to the state tournament last year, and they have the group that is capable of getting them over that final hump. But first they must take care of business in the district and earn their spot in the regional playoffs.
“We are just trying to get better everyday,” said Crusaders Manager Matt Cleveland. “That’s what we’ve been telling each other is to win the day. What happened at the beginning of the year was everybody was struggling at once. That happens in baseball sometimes, and these guys may have been putting too much pressure on themselves not really having been there before with the expectations. But we just stopped talking about expectations and just started talking about win the day everyday and trust the process. Ever since we started doing that we’ve gotten better.”
3. Highlands Christian – The Knights relish the underdog role.
Last year Highlands flew under the radar to barnstorm their district and make a nice playoff run. Now the club looks to replicate that success heading into this postseason. With a new group of talent mixed in with the seasoned veterans, they have all the right tools to do just that. The team has the ability to make a deep run, but to do they will likely have to face the ace of each opponent’s staff.
“For some reason Highlands Christian likes to take the long road home,” said Knights Manager Bruce Charlebois. “It’s been year after year after year where we’re battling the game of life. We know that if we continue to build our character and work together on individual things that we need help with, at the end of it when it matters we’ll come together and get after it like we do in the postseason.”
Senior Kirvin Moesquit is in the final year of a storied six-year varsity career at Highlands, and he has blossomed into a tremendous player and leader over the course of time. Moesquit leads the team both at the plate and on the mound, and adds a ton of baseball savvy and confidence that in turn helps build the same in his teammates. Moesquit hit over .300 for the season and has posted an ERA right around 1.50 as well.
Pitching has been the big differential for the Knights. Veteran Mitchell Carroll has grown into the lead role, leading the club in strikeouts and wins. Carroll has gotten stronger as the season rolled on, and he also tossed a no-hitter in the championship game of the 4Him Spring Break tournament. Several newcomers have also provided great depth and ability for the club, particularly starters Alex Bertot and Ayrton Barbolina. The bullpen has also been very effective, with veteran youngster Kyle Bombardier and newcomer Raygelo Melfor molding into shutdown relievers.
The offense has also been driven by several new members of the squad. Heading the pack is infielder Quinsley Balentin, who hit around .475 for the year and led the team in on-base percentage and extra-base hits. Drexler Macaay and Brendly Martina have also brought a lot of pop to the lineup, and veteran Saul Valez has been his usual reliable self to lead the club in RBIs.
Highlands has the talent not only to win one big game, but also to win several big ones through the course of a playoff week. The team has made regionals nearly every year in recent history and they aim to pull off some upsets and continue that trend this year.
4. Trinity Christian – The Warriors have been waiting over three years for this moment. Trinity returned to district play this year and is as eager as any baseball team could be to chase after some postseason accolades. The team has had great playoff success during the nine years they have played in Manager Miguel Cuello’s system, and they are chomping at the bit to add a new chapter to their legacy.
The Warriors have more than enough talent on both sides of the ball to match up with any team in their district. All four of the top teams in this bracket played very tight and strongly-contested games against the other top seeds, and every district loss that Trinity incurred came by one run. Now the team looks to reverse those close contests so that they are on the right side of them in the playoffs.
“Now everything matters,” said Coach Cuello. “We’re happy just for the chances. Win or lost it, it’s just that now every year you have a chance. We go in with that in mind.”
Trinity has established a reputation as an offensive ball club, and this year they have continued to prove just why. Production has come up and down the lineup, as they have proven that any guy one through nine is capable of making an impact in the game. Leading this group is senior Bruce Martin, who has reached base in nearly every game this season while hitting for both average and power and also flashing a lot of speed to be one of the top base stealers in the county. This formula has led to lots of RBIs for the middle of the lineup that features the dangerous bats of Byron Murray and Edmond Americaan.
Pitching has been just as dominant this year, as the Warriors have posted a 1.01 team ERA. Leading the way is Major League prospect Richard Moesker, a former member of the Caracao National Team who has emerged to anchor the pitching staff. Featuring a lethal fastball and a devastating off-speed pitch, Moesker has been tough to hit all season and has given his club all the confidence in the world that they can win whenever he is on the mound.
Depth is also a major advantage for Trinity’s pitching staff, as Jerrison Beaumont and Emilio Pena have both proven themselves in big games. The advantage of having reliable and experienced pitchers for all three games it would take to win a district title is something that Trinity has over most teams in this district. The bullpen also is strong at the back end, where Anthony Russell and Braxton Stowe have proven they can get big outs to close out ball games.
Should the Warriors handle their business in their rematch with Lake Worth Christian, they will earn a second go at district leader Westminster Academy. The two squads had an intense and close finish the first time around, and all signs suggest a second meeting will produce more of the same. Games like that typically come down to one big play or one pivotal moment, and the Warriors must hope that the emotional lift they gain in returning to the district playoffs can provide them with just enough extra drive to make those big plays and win that big game.
5. Lake Worth Christian – It is a tough challenge for the Defenders if they hope to win their second straight district title. Lake Worth Christian moved up from Class 2A this season and took a few lumps against some of the top teams in this district. But the team has a proven track record that it can rise up in the big occasions and play their best baseball at the end of the year when it matters most.
“It’s an exciting year,” said Defenders Manager Dave Salley. “We just have to pull together some kind of hitting and we might be able to surprise somebody.”
While the future is even brighter for a very young Lake Worth Christian team made up primarily of underclassmen, now is the time to seize the moment. As a whole the strength of the club is their ability to compliment one another’s abilities. The team relies more on speed rather than power, and they pitch to contact rather than trying to fire the ball past every hitter. Versatility is another advantage for the squad, as most guys have grown accustomed to playing numerous roles whenever called upon.
Some new additions have played big roles this season. Newcomers Robbie Santiago and Alex Recio have led the team offensively, while Luke Comerford has been a helpful addition to a pitching staff that includes Jordan Marrs and Trevor Huffman. Alex and his brother David Recio have also logged big innings on the mound, with David leading the club in victories.
The Defenders struggled in their meeting with Trinity Christian this regular season, and heading into the rematch they will have plenty of motivation for some payback.
6. Jupiter Christian – The Eagles are hoping to put everything together at the right moment. Jupiter Christian has had an up-and-down season, but the club began to play its best baseball down the stretch after the club regrouped during Spring Break.
“Nobody is trying to do too much and they are making solid contact,” said Eagles Manager Dave Loud. “We are stealing bases and doing the little things better right now and we are piecing them together and getting some big innings finally.”
Now Jupiter Christian hopes to peak in the playoffs and pull out some upsets against some tough teams. Should Jupiter Christian pull a page out of the Knights history book and advance out of the quarterfinals, it would find itself up against either the favored Crusaders or an Oxbridge team that would likely bring tons of momentum themselves if they also pulled out an upset win.
Jupiter Christian has the personnel to match up with the best in the district, but has less depth and experience then most of them. The team has come together as a group over the past few seasons, but has yet to translate that into much playoff success. This 2014 campaign could just be their moment to break out and make their mark.
Leading the Eagles on the mound is sophomore Nik Constantakos, who has an ERA just north of 0.50 and averages more than a strikeout per inning. The right-hander has really improved off a strong freshman season to put in four complete games and two shutouts on the season.
Complimenting their ace has been hurlers Luke Sellers and Sean Farmer, who have both been used in various roles during the season. That experience could be more crucial than ever should the team make a run, as those guys will likely be called upon to play a big part in that success.
Farmer is also the biggest piece of the offensive unit. The sophomore has embraced this role and has a great knack for getting on base and creating a spark for his team.
The Eagles lineup has come together this season, posting strong overall numbers with several guys such as Jon Shuba, Alex Gomez and Matt Richter putting up nice offensive numbers individually. As a group the bats have come alive in the second half of the season, and that is exactly what the Eagles will need if they are going to keep their season going.
7. Oxbridge Academy – The Wolves are playing in their first playoff series in school history. The program joined district play this season after the school opened just a few years ago, and every step of the way has broken new ground for its history. Should they win and advance they will simply give themselves more chances to fill those blank pages in their history books.
“There is a lot of excitement at the school,” said Oxbridge Manager Juan Bustabad. “We have a good sports program at the school and we’re growing. As every year goes by we are getting better and better, and the competition we are facing all want to beat us. We have to be ready or the challenge, but it’s an exciting time at Oxbridge. We’re just trying to get better every game, because we know the future is good.”
Oxbridge has showcased a lot of pop in their bats this year, with several sluggers proving they can handle their own at the plate. Leading the way is senior Ben McGrath, the lone 2014 graduate on the club and a future member of the Naval Academy. McGrath has led the team in most offensive categories, and also provides valuable innings on the mound. Besides his strong play, McGrath has also provided a calming demeanor on a very young roster which has helped build confidence in many of the younger members.
The Wolves have done some damage with their bats this season. Junior Tyler Levin and freshman Tarik Latchmansingh have put up big numbers, while Bustabad and David Carnicella have also had some big moments at the plate throughout the year. Overall the team averaged almost eight runs per game.
While McGrath has been important to the offense, he has been invaluable to the pitching staff. The Wolves played a tough schedule this year and at times the young rotation paid the price for that. While guys like Tyler Levin, Zach Chivers and Jordan Bustabad have come along as they gained varsity experience against some of the most lethal bats in the area, McGrath has been there to stabilize things and set the right example for composure and handling adversity. He also led the club in wins, strikeouts and ERA.
History awaits the Wolves simply by taking the field this postseason, but they are hoping to make an immediate splash in their inaugural trip to the district playoffs.