Fast starts for NP baseball teams

Calvary Christian senior catcher Matheu Nelson scoring the winning run in extra innings against Boca Ciega last Thursday. The defending Class 4A state champion Warriors entered this week riding a 35-game winning streak.

It’s a week into March and the high school baseball season is in full swing.

By the time Friday night wraps up, many teams throughout Pinellas County will be nearing Game 10 on their schedules. It’s that kind of time where it’s still early enough to right some wrongs, but the true contenders are already standing above the rest.

Leading the pack in North Pinellas is a deep group consisting of Dunedin, East Lake, Palm Harbor University and Calvary Christian. PHU entered this week 3-1 and the other three had yet to lose a game.

Dunedin entered Monday’s home game against PHU at 5-0 and Falcons coach Ron Sexton said he’s a little relieved to see his talented squad finishing off wins early after last year’s successes.

“We wanted that because I knew after making the deep run last year we’d get everybody’s best,” he said, referencing Dunedin’s surge to the Class 6A state final four in Fort Myers. “My concern was, would we be ready for that?”

Deserving much of early season credit is the Falcons pitching staff, notably junior Tyler Vogel and senior Josh Collett. As the Dunedin bats work to find more consistency, the team’s arms are surrendering two runs a night.

For Vogel, last year’s postseason star said playing deep into May again will start with individuals all pulling in the same direction now.

“In practice, after everybody made the team, we discussed that we play for the name on the front not the number or name on the back,” Vogel said after striking out 10 and beating Countryside 5-1 last Wednesday. “So, if we’re a unit, then we win games.”

Dunedin reaching the final four would be the highlight of the county most years, but that wasn’t the case in 2017. Calvary Christian won early, won often and won always, wrapping up the season with a 30-0 record and the Class 4A state championship trophy.

Despite losing a handful of impact seniors, the Warriors have picked up right where they left off. Calvary extended its winning streak to 35 games last Friday at Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate one day after nearly having it end at home against Boca Ciega.

Stringing together such a lengthy quantity of wins is impressive and the team takes pride in being a part of something spanning two seasons, but that’s not what it’s all about.

“We continue to tell our guys that it’s not our focus to be perfect,” Calvary coach Greg Olsen said after last Thursday’s 2-1 extra-inning win over Boca Ciega. “It’s baseball. You never know what can happen on any given night. So, we just want to focus on our team and keep getting better.”

“Last year was great,” Warriors senior Ryan Coleman said after getting the walk-off, game-winning hit, “but we’re trying to focus on this year.”

East Lake entered the week as the third unbeaten North Pinellas team and is also eyeing a return to the postseason. The Eagles have advanced six of the last seven years and they’re a favorite to repeat as Class 8A District 7 champions.

East Lake gets a couple of good challenges later this week that will put their lineup and pitching staff to the test. Sunlake will travel south from Pasco County on Friday night and the Eagles head even farther south on Saturday to face Naples Barron Collier.

PHU may have took some lumps last year, finishing 9-13 overall, but the Hurricanes came within a run of knocking off District 9A-8 reigning champ Alonso High in the league tournament semifinals. The district may only be four teams, but it’s one of the most challenging in the region. Sarasota Riverview and Newsome join PHU and Alonso to create a situation like last year, with No. 4 PHU nearly shutting one of the Tampa Bay area’s top teams out of the playoffs.

Juniors and underclassmen make up the Hurricanes’ core and their first district test against ????? didn’t go as planned last week. Sarasota Riverview defended its home turf with a 5-3 win Thursday, meaning PHU has lost seven of its last eight against league opponents. After opening this week at Dunedin on Monday, the Hurricanes will host Alonso at 4 p.m., Tuesday.

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