Palm Beach High School Baseball
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Park Vista Still Team To Beat In 8A-10

The target is as big as ever on Park Vista’s back as they are the team to beat in 8A-10 having gone to the state semifinals last season. But it won’t be easy for the Cobras, who are solid in all phases, as the other four teams will be gunning for them and putting out their best efforts to top their shared nemesis.

With an experienced roster that has a lot of chemistry, Boca Raton is looking to finally solve district nemesis Spanish River as it looks to get over the hump this year. New Mananger Scott Morrison has the Bobcats ready to pounce.

Spanish River has some question marks in pitching with the loss of Sam White and Chui Slootsky, but Manager Brian Harvey will have the Sharks ready to compete for a spot in the regionals. It would historic as the Sharks have never been past districts two seasons in a row.

Santaluces and John I. Leonard will be tough to beat on any given day, making the district puzzle constantly tough to solve.

Boca Raton
2014 Record: 13-12
Manager: Scott Morrison
Coaching Staff: Julian Cabrera, Craig Sheets
Key Returners: Michael Amditis, T.J. Tamaccio, Mike Spooner, Dalton Senger, Mitchel Senger
Team Strength: Offense, Pitching

T.J Tamaccio brings a big bat to Boca’s lineup.

The 2015 Boca Raton Bobcats are a balanced team that should have the goods to make some noise in district 8A-10. Playing in the same district as Park Vista will certainly present its challenges, but for now, the Bobcats are setting their sights on Spanish River, the team that has ousted them from the playoffs in each of the past two seasons before they even had a chance to contend with the Cobras.

Some of the team’s best players are all too familiar with the struggles against Spanish River. While they lost star pitcher Austin Schultz and utility man Brian Merritts to graduation, Mike Spooner, T.J. Tamaccio and Michael Amditis are just a few of the returners from what was a solid 2014 line-up.

“If there were six innings in a game, we’d beat them every time,” Tamaccio commented. “We lose in the last inning every time, so we just have to close the door on them.”

Manager Scott Morrison says the team won’t change anything to try and beat their rivals. Each of the games between them in 2014 were decided by one run and Morrison feels that they just need to keep plugging away. With Spanish River High School being just down the road from them, many of the players have been competing against each other all of their lives and that familiarity is what leads to such closely contested games. In the past, some of the bounces have just not gone Boca’s way, but he believes that the time will come when they do.

None of this is to say that the Bobcat’s don’t need to improve. On the contrary, they have been pushing themselves throughout the off-season and Spooner, a senior who was the team’s top hitter last year, believes the work has paid off.

“I definitely got a little bit stronger. I put on some weight from the gym and everything,” said Spooner who has been a varstiy starter since his freshman season. “I worked really hard over the break, hit with my hitting coaches. Just always want to get better at that. You can never be good enough at hitting.”

He believes that the team as a whole has improved at the plate and Tamaccio, also a senior agrees.

“I think we’re strong at the plate,” said the power-hitter. “We have a lot of hitters that can hit the ball. We’ve got a lot of power this year. We could do a little better defensively, but I think we’ll get to where we need to be by season.”

Manager Scott Morrison is excited about the potential of his pitching staff.

Morrison believes that pitching, which was solid in 2014, can also be a strength this time around. Twins Dalton and Mitchell Senger along with Jagger McCoy will head up what he believes is a solid staff. All are juniors who posted good numbers in 2014.

Spooner shares his manager’s enthusiasm about the rotation, noting that while they don’t have as many arms as last year, he sees them battling and getting better through spring practices.

“Last year they did pretty good,” said Spooner. “We let them down a little bit sometimes as far as offense, we didn’t score enough runs. Defensively, we just made untimely errors that kind of killed us but hopefully they don’t happen this year.”

Now in his second year, Morrison is settling in to his position as the head man at Boca, and as a result, practices are smooth and efficient. He tries to keep a relaxed attitude without micro-managing his players. Not far removed from his college playing days, he knows that being relaxed and having fun are the keys to maintaining focus and improving performance come game time. With an experienced roster that has a lot of chemistry, that kind of approach should pave the way for a successful 2015 campaign.

John I. Leonard
2014 Record: 9-15
Manager: Doug Magaw
Coaching Staff: Ron Beesley, Marcus Beesley, Mike Cushing
Key Returners: Victor Suero, Jorge Reyes, Jose Garcia, Moises Caracus, Kyle Lamb, Jorge Rivera, Nestor Valdez, Abdiel Hernandez
Newcomers: Jordan Santiago, Angel Diaz, Danny Hernandez

Moises Caracus is looking to build off of a great sophomore season.

Everything old is new again at John I. Leonard high school this spring. Doug Magaw, who managed the Lancers from 2002 through 2006, is back at the helm after spending the past six seasons as the head man at King’s Academy.

He brings with him a fresh attitude and new approach that his young team is buying into whole-heartedly. Throughout spring practices he and his staff have been working hard to raise the player’s baseball IQ and create a supportive, yet competitive atmosphere. Under his watch, players will have to earn their positions and he can already see the effects of this strategy as underclassmen make a push to crack the starting lineup.

“We have the willingness to work hard, which is a strength,” said the long-time skipper. “I can’t really say if I can depend on this guy or that guy but everybody here works hard and they want to compete on a daily basis. That’s really all you can ask, that they compete with each other and help each other get better.”

On paper, the team looks as though it should be better than last year’s club, which finished with a 9-15 record. While they lost a handful of players to graduation, there are still plenty of familiar faces as well as some new ones looking to make an impact.

Moises Caracus and Jorge Rivera are two underclassmen who excelled in limited roles in 2014 and are now looking to take the next step. Both hit .400 in 2014, albeit in just 39 and 30 at-bats, respectively.

Caracus, a third baseman who suffered from some injuries last season, believes he can do even better this time around. He has worked hard during the off-season, building both strength and speed, as well as getting himself better prepared from a mental standpoint.

Other returning standouts are juniors Jorge Reyes, Jose Garcia, Nestor Valdez and Kyle Lamb. Valdez, Reyes and Garcia each batted over .300 last year and Lamb was responsible for a no-hitter versus Suncoast.

Team captain Victor Suero leads a group of four seniors who are looking to make the most of their final year as Lancers.

Jorge Reyes pays close attention during a hitting lesson.

“It’s my senior year, so I’m ready to put everything on the table,” said Suero, the team’s first baseman. “I’m ready to play my heart out. I’m ready to lead these guys and play as one unit, to have good chemistry because that’s what I think is the most important.”

Magaw is also excited about some of the team’s newcomers. Danny Hernandez is a tough competitor who he expects big things from, even though he is just a freshman. Jordan Santiago transferred from Vero Beach, and as a sophomore, will be another option both on the mound and in the outfield. Angel Diaz is another freshman who is pushing some of the older kids for a starting position.

With so many options, Magaw admits that it may take a few weeks to settle on an everyday lineup. In the meantime, his focus is getting the players to learn his system and realize the type of program he is trying to build.

“Doing the things that it takes to put ourselves in a position to compete, day in and day out,” Magaw said. “And that’s really what it’s about. It’s not about wins and losses. Wins take care of themselves when you’re doing the things it takes to put yourself in a position to compete.”

For all the potential talent on Leonard’s roster, those wins may be hard to come buy. Their district, 8A-10, is a competitive one, with last year’s regional champs, Park Vista leading the pack. Caracus, for one, is not intimidated.

“You can’t really worry about competition,” said the third baseman. “You have to go out there and just play. Don’t play the team, just play the players out there. It doesn’t really matter what school you’re playing. Anybody can win any game at any certain time so you just have to go out there and play.”

Park Vista
2014 Record: 26-4
Manager: Larry Greenstein
Coaching Staff: Stu Greenstein, Tony Heminger, James McDonough, Tim Roche
Key Returners: Dakota Julylia, Nyle Newland, Austin Smith, Matthew Mika, Tyler Huggins, Joey Genord, Colin Smith
Newcomers: Jordan Poore
Team Strengths: Pitching, Offense

Austin Smith will lead the Cobras pitching staff in their bid for a state title.

Past performance does not predict future results.

The Park Vista Cobras know that as well as anyone. Despite a shining 26-4 record and a trip to the state semifinals in 2014, they will still be 0-0, just like everybody else, when the new campaign gets under way on February 19th. From there, it will be a long climb back to the heights they achieved last season, but they are up for the challenge.

“We’re excited that we have a lot of guys back and hopefully we can make another run at it,” said manager Larry Greenstein. “It’s not going to be easy and we know that.”

The Cobras lost that state semifinal game to Bloomingdale by just one run, the only one scored in an extra-innings game. Although it was not the result they were looking for, they battled hard and are well aware that they were just one good bounce away from being able to play for the ultimate prize in high school baseball.

“It was a great experience,” recalled Greenstein. “You know what, we got there, we played well, and the hits just didn’t fall.”

That experience, combined with a roster that includes 14 returning seniors, many of whom were instrumental in last year’s run, has expectations for the team soaring. In order to meet them, Greenstein and his kids know that they will have to stay focused and work hard.

“Don’t take any teams lightly,” said senior second baseman Dakota Julylia. “You know, come out there like it’s always the state championship game.”

His double-play partner, shortstop Matthew Mika, believes that the state tournament provided the team with valuable lessons that can help it in its quest to not only get back, but to possibly finish the job and win it all.

“It was good,” said Mika said about their time spent at jetBlue. “I mean, facing other teams from other parts of Florida was definitely a good learning experience for us. Getting to see different competition and all that, it was a really good experience for us”

On paper, there is little reason to suspect that the Cobras won’t make another deep run. Julylia and Mika had the top two batting averages in 8A-10 and show no signs of slowing down. Mika has no intention of slowing down on the basepaths either. He swiped 48 bags in 2014, and while he suspects teams will now be a little more careful with him, he still expects to get his fair share of opportunities.

Also returning to the lineup are seniors Joey Genord and Nyle Newland. Both are forces to be reckoned with at the dish, tying for the team lead with two home runs apiece in 2014 while Genord also drove in the most runs, 26. They did lose catcher Tyler Barre to graduation, but Tyler Huggins got plenty of looks last season and Greenstein is confident that he will step up and fill the void.

The pitching staff also looks to be top-notch again. Leading the way is Austin Smith, a flamethrower who led the district in both ERA (0.36) and strikeouts (96) a year ago. Backing him up will be Jordan Poore, a lefty transfer from Indiana who will fill the role vacated by Bruce Betchel’s graduation. Betchel was a reliable workhorse who ate up over 40 innings for the club and will be missed, but the Cobras are excited about the potential of their newest teammate. Poore, who is “the real deal” according to his new manager, is equally excited, not only to be joining such a talented squad, but also to live in a region where baseball does not take a backseat to football and basketball.

“I love it,” said Poore. “I get along with everybody. Everybody’s a great teammate.”

He is also undaunted by the prospect of living up to the high standards of Park Vista baseball.

“Everybody behind me, I know can make plays,” said the pitcher. “Put the ball in play and everybody’s going to make a play.”

Newcomer Jordan Poore has a light-hearted moment with Ben Greenstein.

Rounding out the rotation is veteran Colin Smith, who managed to chalk up three wins despite struggling through some injuries in 2014. Now healthy, his workload will increase, giving Greenstein a high level of confidence in his options.

All three of those pitchers bring more to the team than just their arms. Austin Smith is a .425 hitter who knocked in 25 runs last year. Colin Smith can man third base and pull his weight at the plate, while Poore is athletic enough to roam the outfield. Together, they provide Greenstein with options for a lineup that has nary a chink in it to begin with.

The Cobras have long been considered to be among the elite teams in Palm Beach County, but never have they dealt with the pressure that they are facing this year. With so many seniors, it is pertinent that they seize the moment and capitalize on the unique opportunity they have been afforded.

Playing at jetBlue Park against the best competition Florida has to offer can be a daunting assignment, as the team discovered last year, but now that they know what to expect and how to prepare, it would seem that the only thing standing between them and the coveted state championship is themselves. If they can learn from that experience and maintain a singular focus, anything is possible in the season ahead, and Smith is hoping for the best.

“It was just an awesome experience and hopefully this year we can do the same thing,” said Smith about last season’s trip to states. “Hopefully this year we see it as not just a fun time, but we go in there and take it serious and hopefully win the whole thing.”

Santaluces
2014 Record:
11-16
Manager: Nick Franco
Coaching Staff: Nate Forsythe, Gary Chanley, Jay Smith, Taylor McInnis, Mikey Cohen
Key Returners: Austin Smith, Ben Fagan, Chad Tworek, Luke Stemle
Newcomers: A.J. Orrico, Justin Anglin
Team Strengths: Defense

Manager Nick Franco tries to prepare his young team for a tough district race.

Nick Franco, Manager for the Santaluces Chiefs, knows that the competition in 8A-10 is brutal. Last season, his teams managed an 11-16 record and beat John I. Leonard in the district quarterfinals before bumping up against powerhouse Park Vista in the semis, where they lost 9-0. With eight players graduating since then, the road does not get any easier this season.

Gone are Joseph Strzelecki and Jonathan Wake, Troy Steele and Justin Tworek, among others. Strzelecki was a tough, gutsy performer both behind and at the plate. He led the team in batting and set a good example of selflessness by taking on catching duties even though it was not his natural position. Wake and Steele both batted over .300 and Tworek was the team’s top pitcher.

Still, Franco is excited about the upcoming campaign. The reason for that enthusiasm lies in part with two incoming freshman, A.J. Orrico and Justin Anglin. Both are excellent fielders and Franco expects the Chiefs defense to shine with them on the diamond.

Both have come up through the Santaluces JV program, which Franco has played a large part in developing, so they are already familiar with his strategies and terminology. For this reason, he is already willing to plug in Orrico as his everyday shortstop.

“I’m really excited,” said Orrico about the opportunity. “I’m just going to try and work hard everyday. Just try to do my best and hustle on the field.”

Working hard is nothing new to the young shortstop, who stays after practice to field an extra 100 ground balls everyday and spends Sundays at the batting cage with his dad taking 200 swings.

The presence of a natural-born, everyday shortstop is a luxury that Franco has not had in past years and it has given him the ability to try some of his returning veterans at positions that they might be more suited for. In particular, it allows him to give seniors Ben Fagan and Austin Smith more opportunities on the mound, an area where he could use some depth.

Two of his top hurlers from 2014, Tworek and Jaxon Scofield, were among the seniors that graduated, leaving a void behind Tworek’s little brother, Chad, who assumes the role of staff ace. The older Tworek struck out 65 batters last season, second most in the district, and Scofield had the third best ERA in 8A-10 at 1.37.

The younger Tworek is happy for the help, noting that Fagan has made significant strides from last season, when he pitched just 4.2 innings and that Smith is a natural on the mound. He also is ready to assume the leadership role being handed down to him and to share what he has learned from his older brother.

Chad Tworek (second from right) inherits the role of staff ace from his older brother, Justin, who graduated in the off-season.

“Whenever you see a kid’s down on himself, don’t just sit there and let it happen,” Tworek said. “You have to go to him and say, ‘It’s just one at-bat. It’s just one play. You still have the rest of the game to keep fighting.'”

Another bright spot for the Chiefs is Luke Stemle, a speedy outfielder who racked up a .356 batting average in 2014 while stealing eight bases. He suffered a foot injury in the fall, but both Tworek and Franco expect him to be a key cog when he returns.

“Fast little dude,” Tworek said about his teammate. “Always the dude who’ll come up, slap a hit and beat out a ball to shortstop. He’s the one who sparks our rallies.”

Baserunning, in fact, is one of the areas where Franco would like to see improvement this season. He hopes that that, along with the bolstered defense, will be enough to get them over the .500 mark.

With such a young and inexperienced club he knows that can be a challenge, however. He is looking forward to the Santaluces Slam preseason tournament, where they will be taking on the likes of American Heritage-Delray, King’s Academy, Benjamin and Cardinal Newman. Opponents of that caliber, he says, will be the true test of just how ready for the big time his kids really are.

Spanish River
2014 Record:
17-11
Manager: William Harvey
Coaching Staff: Marc Trudel, Thomas Trudel, Bennett Vivona, Danny Leperna, Phil Terrano, Jose Ledesma
Key Returners: Devon Bard, Spencer Diaz, Ian Morton, John O’Connor, Billy Marion, Anthony Acino
Newcomers: Cam Weinberger
Team Strengths: Offense, Defense

Team captain Billy Marion awaits the start of a recent preseason game.

The Spanish River Sharks have a chance to do something no other baseball team in the history of the school has done before.

Last year’s team finished with a 17-11 mark and made it to the district final against Park Vista. They lost that game, but it still earned them a trip to the regional playoffs. If they can duplicate that task, it will be the first time the Sharks have ever made it to regionals two years in a row.

The team’s longtime manager, Bill Harvey, is excited about the chance to make history and is using it to motivate the team.

“That’s our number one goal,” said Harvey, “to get past the district tournament.”

The other teams in 8A-10 may have something to say about that however. Park Vista is the reigning champ while Santaluces and John I. Leonard are both young teams on the rise but perhaps the Sharks biggest obstacle to returning to regional competition is Boca Raton. The Sharks have had the Bobcats’ number lately, knocking them out of the district playoffs in each of the past three season. Last year, they also swept the regular-season series and all three games were decided in the final inning by one run. As a result, Boca Raton will be gunning for the Sharks this year and seeking revenge.

Devon Bard, now in his final season with Spanish River, relishes the opportunity to play against his team’s nemesis.

“It’s a rivalry, man. We look forward to that game every year,” said Bard. “We don’t like them very much, and I’m sure they don’t like us, but I’m looking forward to playing them this year and hopefully we get after them and beat them.”

Doing so might be a challenge for a team that lost some key seniors to graduation. The Sharks’ top two pitchers from a year ago, Sam White and Chui Slootsky are now gone, as well as solid hitters Ryan Berger and Fenway Parks.

“We’re gonna be okay,” Harvey claimed in regards to the losses. “Obviously, more than anything, we’re going to miss our number one and number two pitchers from last year. Anytime that happens, that’s going to be your biggest worry.”

To take their place, the manager will turn to some relatively untested arms. Billy Marion and John O’Connor tossed a total of 14 innings between them last season but will be relied upon to carry the load this year. By way of comparison, Slootsky and White accounted for well over 100 innings pitched a season ago as well as nine wins. Also in the mix will be senior Ian Morton, who is returning from a torn labrum that had him shelved for nine months.

Marion, who has achieved a goal that he set for himself at the beginning of his career by becoming the team’s captain, misses the departed seniors but thinks the team will be able to move forward without them.

John O’Connor will carry a heavy load on the mound despite only seeing one inning of work last season.

“I don’t think we’ll have a hard time recovering from that,” said Marion. “Some guys are stepping up and we’re gonna have a pretty good team this year.”

Where the strength of that team lies is yet to be determined. Some players believe it will be the pitching, others the defense, and still others the offense. It gives the impression that the squad is a well-rounded one with no glaring weaknesses.

For his part, Harvey believes the line-up should be a competitive one. There are a lot of top performers returning to it and Bard, one of the best of them with a .329 batting average in 2014, is among those that sees offense as a strong point.

“We’re looking pretty solid,” said Bard. “We lost some good players from last year, but we’re grinders, you know. We’re not the biggest team but we’ve got grinders, kids who want it bad, like myself.”

Harvey believes that that kind of attitude is what will determine the team’s fate in the coming season.

“I don’t know how far we can go,” said Harvey. “It’s up to their fire and determination. We can lay the framework and the groundwork and give them direction, but they’re going to have to decide how bad they want it.”

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