7A-13 District Tournament Preview
Host: Lake Worth (at Dave Manzo Field)
Monday April 21st
6:30 PM (8) Palm Beach Lakes vs. (1) West Boca at West Boca
6:30 PM (7) Lake Worth vs. (2) Dwyer at Dwyer
6:30 PM (6) Forest Hill vs. (3) Royal Palm Beach at Royal Palm Beach
6:30 PM (5) Olympic Hights vs. (4) Atlantic at Little Fenway
Tuesday April 22nd
4:00 PM 3/6 winner vs. 2/7 winner
7:00 PM 4/5 winner vs. 1/8 winner
Thursday April 24th
7:00 PM Championship: Semifinal winners
Full Stats for 7A-13 can be found on the 7A-13 Stats Page!
Overview – This is the most exciting and pure playoff bracket in the county. This eight-team district sets up for a true and pure playoff scenario, where the ultimate victor will need to win three games in order to hoist that district championship trophy. This alignment will test each team’s grit, desire and depth as each team chases after that final reward. It is playoff baseball at it’s finest, and anything goes in such a setting.
1. West Boca – The Bulls have not only positioned themselves as the top team in the district this season, but have also proven that they are the most dangerous team in the entire county. West Boca suffered just one loss all year long, and that lone defeat came in a 1-0 decision to Royal Palm Beach. The club has a veteran roster and an accomplished coaching staff, and it seems poised for a deep and memorable playoff run.
While a district title is the primary goal for every team going into the tournament, West Boca has every reason to set its sights even higher for this season. The team is close to flawless, playing fundamental and consistent baseball all year long. While the expectations and goals should be high, the club succeeds by focusing on the task at hand and refusing to overlook anyone along the way.
Bulls Manager has always preached to take care of the three facets of the game: pitching, hitting and defense. The club has done exactly that, playing stellar defense, pitching as well as any team in the district, and coming up with big plays on defense when it needs them most. West Boca is perhaps the most fundamental team in Palm Beach, and the team’s ability to follow the game plan and execute according to design has led them to the success it has enjoyed.
It has not been that long since Siano led his squad all the way to its first state championship, which it won in the 2011 season. Now the team has returned its deepest and most dangerous team since then, and the players are all focused on etching their name into team lure. A deep playoff run is a strong possibility, and as the top seed in the district the Bulls have a manageable path to start things off with its second straight district title.
2. Dwyer – The way the Panthers have played this season, there is little doubt that any of the clubs in 8A-9 miss them. After realignment dropped Dwyer down into this massive new Class 7A district, the Panthers have announced their presence with a solid district showing to earn the second seed.
Dwyer had plenty of success against a young Lake Worth team that it will face in the quarterfinal opener, and if things fall according to the favorites it will bring the Panthers right into the path of third-seeded Royal Palm Beach. The Wildcats present an intriguing and challenging semifinal match up, and after the two clubs gave each other all they could handle during the regular season it could very play out as the most exciting outcome in this entire bracket.
Pitching and defense are typically the staples of a championship-caliber club, and this year the Panthers have specialized in doing exactly that. The pitching staff posted a team ERA of 1.42, with team ace Thomas Szapucki leading the way with an impressive 1.02 ERA and a team-high 45 strikeouts in 32 innings. Fellow starter Colton Rendon also posted strong numbers this season, and led the club with a 5-2 record. Junior left-hander Hunter Whitman also emerged as a reliable pitching option this season, giving the club just the right amount of depth for the postseason.
The offense has been just as lethal this year, hitting .319 as a unit. Leading the way was Alex Neher, who hit a team-high .393 and also led the squad in RBIs with 17. Veteran Duke Stenkel also played a major role by hitting .370 and tying for the team lead in extra-base hits, while fellow veterans Shane Olive and Connor Webb also made major offensive contributions.
Dwyer has typically been a club that relies more on the sum of its parts rather than leaning on any one guy, and this year it has been that depth that has been a major factor in its success. With the playoffs now here, the Panthers can take the field with extra confidence knowing it has a roster full of guys who have been tested and have proven they are capable of rising up big when needed the most.
3. Royal Palm Beach – The Wildcats truly are the wildcards of the district playoffs. After putting in a very impressive 2014 campaign, the club has done more than enough to prove it is a worthy contender in the district playoffs. As both Dwyer and West Boca also present a formidable challenge as the other primary contenders, the team will need to pull off at least one upset in order to return to the regional playoffs and also get into position to contend for its second straight district title.
Royal Palm has the right pieces in place to make a serious run this year. The team has great starting pitching, as Brandon Houck and Tristan McKenzie have both displayed frontline ability and big-game talent. The bullpen has been equally tough, with Shindell Winright and Sean Houck established as the key cogs of the relief corps. Meanwhile the offense has come up big all year to hit nearly .300 for the season and average over five runs per game. Jameel Edney and Kyle Houck have been the big producers on the offensive side of the ball.
To get back to the district championship and regional playoffs Royal Palm Beach will need to get past a hungry and upstart Forest Hill club, and then come out on top in another big showdown with a Dwyer squad that they have given all it could handle already this year. It is a tough task to perform, but also one that the Wildcats have worked to get into position for all year.
Playoff baseball is all about seizing the moment, and for the past two seasons the Wildcats have done their part to enjoy playoff success. But with an expanded field and tougher opposition, that challenge has grown considerably tougher this year. While the challenge is greater, it would provide greater satisfaction should the club make that possibility a reality.
“Everybody covets that district championship and it’s really going to mean something this year,” said Wildcats Manager Bart Wible. “Whoever wins the district championship definitely deserves some praise.”
4. Atlantic – Two years removed from its last trip to the state Final Four, the Eagles are looking to replicate that playoff magic and spark another such run. After the last two seasons featured a back-and-forth war against district rival West Boca, realignment brought in four new worthy challengers to completely shake up the playoff bracket. While the field has gotten tougher, the road to playoff glory remains the same for Atlantic. To get to the district championship the Eagles will need to ultimately find a way past rival West Boca, a team that has won six straight against them.
Atlantic returned a very new roster in 2014, after the bulk of its starters graduated last season. Despite the loss of nine seniors, the club has had two talented veterans to lean on this year in outfielder Joey Ohannasien and reining Palm Beach County Hitter of the Year Jarren Pinkney. The two seniors have provided the majority of the pop in the lineup, as well as valuable experience to impart on its younger guys.
“We always pick each other up when someone does bad, and we just play like one big family,” said Pinkney. “It’s not going to work if all of us don’t work together. We all get along, we know how each other feels, and we all have each other’s backs.”
While the victories have not piled up like they did the past few seasons, Atlantic can take some comfort in knowing it has played a tougher schedule then most in the district. Win or lose, regularly playing the best of the best helps any club prepare for the playoff, and the Eagles are counting on that to be the case with them.
Pitching has been a big question mark for the past two seasons, and this year Atlantic has pieced it together in using as many as 12 different guys on the mound. As the season rolled again the staff has gradually improved, keeping the club in ball games and taking some of the pressure off the young lineup.
After serving as a favorite the past two years entering the district playoffs, Atlantic is almost an overlooked squad in this deep new bracket. The Eagles are just another underdog in the playoffs, and this is exactly the type of familiar role they have always thrived within.
5. Olympic Heights – Year two of the Sam Howell era at Olympic Heights has seen its highs and lows. As one of Palm Beach County’s most accomplished managers in history, Howell has proven he know how to put a successful squad together. The question is whether or not the current Lions roster is ready to rise up and seize the moment. A win in the quarterfinal match up with Atlantic could be the type of spark that might ignite the Lions to a memorable playoff run.
After falling on the wrong end of some lopsided playoff results the past several years, the Lions enter into the district tournament looking for its first playoff victory under Howell. The team will travel to face an Atlantic squad that won big the last time it hosted Olympic Heights during the season, which should serve as extra motivation for the playoffs.
As a whole the Lions are still putting the right pieces into place. Since pitching generally takes longer to mold along, it has been the offense that has stepped forward to shoulder the heavy load this year. Leading the lineup this season was Casey Furnas, who led the squad with a .400 batting average, 14 RBIs and 19 runs scored. Ian Robbins has also been a big offensive producer, hitting .340 with 18 hits in 53 at bats.
Casey Furnas has emerged as the primary hurler on a pitching staff that is still rounding into form. The senior led the club in ERA, wins and innings pitched, while fellow starter Marco Pinto has also come along to lead the team in strikeouts with 32 in 37 innings pitched.
6. Forest Hill – The Falcons are only two years removed from a deep playoff run, and the club has a lot of veterans that are capable of rising to the occasion. Forest Hill will need to rally together and put all their best pieces into action to make a run, needing to pull off a few big upsets in order to work its way back into the championship game.
The Falcons will travel to play at Royal Palm Beach in the quarterfinals, and can take some confidence with them after playing a tough and tight contest at the Wildcats place in a 4-1 defeat early in the season. Now the club will need to replicate what it did well on that day and make the final proper adjustments to give it an edge for the upset victory.
The Falcons have some bright young players on their roster who have flashed a lot of potential during the season. Now the club will lean on those guys to step forward and rise up to play their greatest game when it matters the most. Heading the youth movement is Kylan Barnett, who finished among the top hitters on the club with a .277 batting average and the only two home runs produced by the lineup. Other major keys to the offensive attack are Raymond Sanchez and Manny Bejerano, both of whom led the squad in runs scored.
Forest Hill will need to mix and match on the mound and rely on its depth to get the job done. The club used 10 different pitchers throughout the season with mixed results, but can lean on the experience of the unit to work its way through a tough Wildcats lineup. Hector Perdigon has been the workhorse of the club, logging roughly a third of the team’s total time on the mound and leading the Falcons in strikeouts and wins.
7. Lake Worth – Trojans alum BJ Gilbert Jr. is in his second year as the team’s manager, and this long-term rebuilding project has actually come along very well during that time. Although the wins have not exactly been piling in, late in the season the Trojans showed that they have started to turn that corner by playing so solid and competitive baseball down the stretch. The club still has a ways to go, but a lot of recognition deserves to be given for the player’s tenacity and commitment to the process.
A win in the district playoffs would be an absolutely huge reward for the team. With no seniors on its roster, Lake Worth has every reason to be excited about the future of the program. But the playoffs are all about the present, and every positive that the club can gain from its district quarterfinal will serve to create a building block going forward.
“We have it,” Gilbert Jr. said about his team’s ability. “These kids are fighters. They just have to believe in themselves.”
Part of the building process is to have some a nucleus to build around, and this season junior Chase Forest has stepped up to give his team just that. The versatile outfielder has also logged time on the mound and behind the plate, leading the club on offense with a .310 batting average and a team-high 13 runs. Beyond his statistics is the example Forest has set to give the team whatever it needs to build and improve in the direction it is going.
That example has had its residual affect, as many other guys have stepped up to shake off adversity and believe in the process. Another prime example is junior Kevin Hankla, who logged big innings on the mound for the team this year after the coaches encouraged him to help fill the pitching void.
“I’m very proud of Kevin Hankla,” said Gilbert Jr. “He didn’t even pitch last year. We told him, ‘Kevin, you’re going to have to pitch this year,’ and he was like, ‘Yes coach, whatever you need me to do’.”
Hankla has provided a nice option out of the bullpen to help ease the learning curve for the pitching staff. With starters Jonathan Rodriguez and Christian Baez figuring it out on the mound, Hankla came in for 11 relief appearances to help keep the thin pitching staff fresh throughout the year. While his results were decent, his example as a teammate has had far bigger affect on the club.
Lake Worth hosts the district tournament and will have the chance to be right in the action to come. Even if the club is not able to make any noise in this year’s district playoff, it will get the chance to log some valuable lessons as it continues the evolution back into a contender.
Lake Worth is a club that may not strike fear in its opponents just yet, but it is a club that is not as far away from turning that corner as many may think.
8. Palm Beach Lakes – If Las Vegas was setting betting spreads on the 7A-13 district tournament, the Rams would go in as the biggest long shots. After graduating a veteran club that moved on nearly every member of its roster from a season ago, Palm Beach Lakes has had to go back to the well and start all the way over from scratch this season. The program had a lot of struggles during the season and has not been able to put up much of a fight in its district, and the team as a very tough challenge in trying to pull off a gigantic upset over top-seed West Boca.
With a roster full of players who are learning the game for the first time, the Rams still have a very long way to go to become a contender. Veteran Manager Dorwin Lynch has proven he can bring such a group along, as was evidenced in how far last season’s squad had come by the time the group collected their diplomas together last year. But along the way comes a lot of tough lessons and difficult losses, and that has been the case this season.
The lone holdover from a season ago is senior shortstop Roberto Rodriguez, a talented and versatile player who has provided leadership and mentorship all season long. While accepting the situation with maturity and poise, Rodriguez has been a rock to showcase to everyone in the county just how important it is to play the game of baseball with dignity and class. Rodriguez has been both instructive and supportive to the young roster, and his example as a teammate far outweighs anything he accomplished on the field of play.
A great example of that leadership came when Rodriguez enjoyed the moment to celebrate with Luke Kahn after the rookie connected for his first career hit early in the season.
“It’s exciting to see those things, because we deal with a lot of frustration with them being new to the game,” Rodriguez said. “So when stuff like that happens, it’s exciting. It’s still kind of challenging for me because I’m not used to having a leadership role like this, but it’s going to do nothing but build character and I am excited. They make it easy and they listen.”
Palm Beach Lakes could bankrupt Sin City with a victory over West Boca. With the odds stacked so heavily against them, the Rams have every reason to play the game loose and care free. For all but one guy on the roster it will be the guy’s first taste of playoff baseball, and that experience should be embraced for every bit of a lesson it can provide.