Coaching consensus: Mitchell Mustangs (8-2), South Sumter Red Raiders (4-3) favored to reach Varn Baseball Tourney Finals

Springstead High’s Jack Jasiak concentrates during an at bat against Nature Coast. Photo by JOE DICRISTOFALO
Nature Coast Head Coach, Frank Vitale discusses a call during the pivotal seventh inning during the game at Springstead High. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO


16 teams begin play

Monday along four

venues in Hernando Co.


Sixteen area baseball teams will converge upon Hernando County borders for the annual Tom Varn Baseball Tournament sponsored by Brooksville’s Farm Bureau Insurance.

Tom Varn

The prep event will take place along four venues beginning Monday afternoon simultaneously at Hernando High’s Emerson Park, Central Park, Weeki Wachee and Springstead High.

This year’s 16-team field features: Hernando County’s Central, Hernando, Nature Coast Technical, Springstead, Weeki Wachee; Citrus County’s Citrus, Crystal River and Lecanto; Pasco County’s Hudson-Fivay, Hudson, Land O’ Lakes, Land O’ Lakes-Sunlake, New Port Richey-Mitchell, New Port Richey-River Ridge, Zephyrhills and Sumter County‘s Bushnell-South Sumter.

Each team is guaranteed three games (weather permitting).

The defending tourney champion is Springstead.

The tourney schedules games at 4 and 7 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday and Thursday.

Wednesday is a scheduled rain or makeup day, followed by third-round tilts and semifinals on Thursday.

Friday night’s finale is set for 7 p.m. at Springstead High.

HHS’ Sims sees balanced brackets

Hernando High’s 23rd-year skipper Tim Sims, who begins the tourney seven wins shy of reaching a career milestone of 400 wins, sees balance across the four brackets.

Hernando Head Coach Tim Sims congratulates Trevor Vendrone after a homerun. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

“This is a fun tournament. Everyone is always looking forward to it,” explained Sims. “To me, it neat seeing all our county coaches participating and four of our schools hosting it.”

In analyzing the teams, “South Sumter made it to the finals a couple years ago (losing to Mitchell, 2-1). Mitchell is another solid team. Land O’Lakes traditionally starts slow, but will be there at the end (of the season).

“… Typically, who ever makes the finals here has a good post-season,” predicted Sims. “Sunlake is another fine ball club. Nature Coast and Springstead are tough as well. I could see any of those five teams winning it.”

When the other county coaches were asked on who will reach the finals, Mitchell (8-2 overall) and South Sumter (4-3) were the consensus choices.

Sims didn’t necessarily agree.

“At this stage, you either crystal ball or you’re an 8-ball,” quipped Sims. “How many folks before last weekend thought either Arizona or Virginia was going to win the NCAA Tournament? Just how many folks know where Maryland Baltimore County University is? Well, they know now.

“This is why we play the games,” added Sims. “It really doesn’t matter what people predict. It’s about who comes to play.”

Hernando opens at 7 p.m. Monday against Rusty Gwynn’s Zephyrhills Bulldogs.

The Leopards arrive 6-2 compared the Bulldogs’ 7-2 slate.

HHS enters averaging eight hits and eight runs a game, hitting a composite .318.

Leading the way offensively for the Purple and Gold is blend of young and older players.

Connor Morgan

Sophomore Connor Morgan leads the attack hitting .455 behind a team-best 11 runs batted in. He’s followed by senior Kobe Simon (.444) and frosh Brandon DuPhily (.440).

According to Coach Sims, the Leopards are still tinkering with its starting outfield alignment and starting pitching staff.

Jackson Short

On the hill, curveball specialist Jackson Short is 1-1. He’s fanned a team-high 13 in 11.1 innings.

The veteran Sims didn’t beat around the bush on his teams goals.

“You go into every tournament wanting to win. We’d like to win Monday and Tuesday and look up and see us playing in Thursday’s semifinals,” admitted Sims. “This is a good test to reach some of our team goals.”

With a win Monday night, HHS is expected to battle South Sumter on Tuesday again at Emerson Field.

The Red Raiders turned heads locally when the Sumter County crew handed Springstead its first loss last week in Spring Hill, 8-3.

Hornets/Seahawks collide

Only a third of the season into 2018, perhaps the most improved local nine is Weeki Wachee.

The Hornets aren’t pounding their chests due to its 5-4 overall.

Seventh-year skipper Patrick McHugh takes pride in the team’s vast defensive improvement. The US-19 crew has committed only 15 errors to date.

Combine that with its nearly 3-to-1 ratio in strikeouts to walks (73-24), demonstrates how well the pitching staff has performed.

Austin Seeman

Frosh Chris Perdomo (2-1) with 18 Ks in 17.2 innings and senior Austin Seeman (1-2) with 28 punchouts in 19 innings are leading the turnaround.

Offensively, according to McHugh, the Hornets have gotten batters on and have moved them over, the problem has been scoring.

While hitting a combined .246, only four starters are hitting over .300.

Dalton Mosser

WWHS is led by sophomore Collin Greer (.350) and senior infielder/pitcher and All-County pick Dalton Mosser (.330).

The Hornets (5-4) will the Sunlake Seahawks (7-3) at 4 p.m. Monday.

Sunlake finished 17-12 in 2017 and reached the Class 7A, Region III Finals before being eliminated by Naples-Gulf Coast, 2-1.

It doesn’t help that the ’Hawks graduated 14 seniors from last year’s run.

Patrick McHugh

“Sunlake has a good team,” shared Coach McHugh. “They’ve got a bunch of arms. We’ve seen them during fall ball, so we know what they’re capable of.”

With a win, WWHS would face the survivor of Land O’ Lakes/Hudson.

Pesky Hudson handed Hernando its first loss of the season, 4-3.

“We can’t afford to sleep on anybody. Let along Calvin Baisley at Land O’ Lakes or Hudson,“ stressed McHugh. “I think Sunlake is a mirror image of us. Hitting will be a bonus to anyone. I think both teams can pitch and play defense.”

McHugh hopes his team continues its positive mound efforts.

“We’ve ironed out some things defensively and our pitchers aren’t walking as many guys as we have in the past,” emphasized the Hornets’ mentor. “Were pitching with a lot less distress and it shows.”

As far as the tourney favs, “I think Mitchell is a tough team to beat. I think the other team to reach the finals is Springstead,” added McHugh. “Now, Springstead may have the toughest bracket in the tournament, too.”

On what the Hornets’ goals are, “We want to continue playing good baseball; playing good defense. If we continue doing that, it‘ll be a good week,” shared Coach McHugh.

On the Hornets’ keys to success, “If we hit, will give ourselves a better shot of winning. We’ve been struggling to get that two-out knock to drive in runners.”

Eagles/Falcons collides

F.W. Springstead (8-1) returns to action at 7 p.m. Monday against upset-minded Hudson-Fivay (8-4).

In the Eagles’ last game Wednesday night in Spring Hill, Shawn Laferty’s crew tallied three runs in the seventh to tie archrival Nature Coast Technical before winning on a bases loaded, two-out error, 6-5.

The loss was the Sharks’ first this season.

SHS is concentrating on besting CJ Smith’s Falcons, who are led by 6-foot-2, 210-pound right-handed stud Gunnar Hoglund.

Hoglund last pitched against the Eagles two years ago.

This year, Hoglund walks in 4-0 with 49 punchouts across 22 innings pitched.

Hoglund’s draft stock is rising after reportedly throwing as high as 96 mph this season and has yet to issue a walk.

At the plate, the Falcons have mustered three homers in in 196 at-bats. All three dingers belong to (you guessed it) Hoglund, who is hitting a team-best .444.

Jiovel Lantiqua                                                  Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Springstead arrives hitting .270 averaging over eight hits and just over six runs per game.

SHS is led offensively by junior Jiovel Lantiqua (.333) and seniors Kevin Tomas (.333) and Chris Cesiro (.321).

On the hill, junior and 2017 All-County selection Jack Jasiak (3-0) will confront Hoglund.

Jasiak is no slouch throwing consistently in the high 80s and occasionally touching 90 mph.

Jack Jasiak

The two-year starter carries over an 8-to-1 ratio (33-4) in strikeouts to walks across 20 innings pitched.

Kevin Tomas

Another Eagle right-hander Kevin Tomas (4-0, 26 Ks in 20 IP) is expected hurl on Tuesday against the winner of River Ridge/NCT.

“Anybody could win our bracket,” explained fourth-year SHS skipper Shawn Laferty. “I expect a great battle on Monday night. We’ll get Gunnar. We saw him two years ago. If we get by him, then we’ll probably see JP (Gates).

“… I can’t lie. Our bracket is pretty tough,” added Laferty. “Looking at each of the brackets, I think South Sumter has the most pitching; so they have the best chance to reach the finals. We don’t have anybody like Dom (Marrone, who pitched four times in five nights last year) this year.”

On the keys to success, “We‘ve gotta get through Game 1 first,” emphasized Laferty. We‘re gonna bring up some JV kids to bolster our pitching. We gave the guys four days off after beating Nature Coast. We’ve gotta come ready to play Monday.”

Renke vs. RRHS

Alex Renke

While most teams give the ball to their ace to begin the week, NCT’s veteran mentor will defer the choice to right-hander Alex Renke, rather than Jonathan “J.P.” Gates.

Renke (2-0) has logged six strikeouts in seven innings of work.

13th-year NCT mentor Frank Vitale believes he has enough bats to tame River Ridge (3-6).

NCT arrives hitting a collective .314, averaging almost eight hits per game while scoring over nine runs per game.

Chase Davis

The lead members of Sharks arsenal features two-time All-county outfielder Zach Funkhouser (.474), sophomore infielder Chase Davis (.393), senior catcher Brandon Riera (.385) and 2016 and 2017 Hernando County Player of the Year Gates (.381).

After just nine games, the Sharks have smacked eight round-trippers.

Curiously in the loss to Springstead (where the Eagles somehow survived committing a season-high seven errors), NCT didn’t register an extra base hit.

Frank Vitale

“I think each tournament bracket has a couple good teams in it except for the Central bracket. Mitchell’s the best team in the field,” noted Vitale. “There’s a lot of balance in this tournament. I believe anyone on our side, could reach the finals.”

On squaring off against Jack Homko’s Royal Knights, “We have no idea what they have. We believe we have the ability to go deep in the FHSAA (state) playoffs. This is a step toward that goal.

“… This week offers us another week of games. We gonna put our best players out there. I’d like to see Renke compete and keep us in the game,” Vitale said.

Vitale announced that he’ll be short-handed going into Thursday’s third round.

Five seniors will be attending the NCT Senior Class Trip to Washington, DC. The Shark seniors depart Tuesday night.

The five team members are expected to depart Wednesday morning, hopefully after Tuesday‘s second-round action (weather permitting).

Gates and Riera are the only two seniors not making the trip to nation’s capitol.

“I’ve known about this for awhile, but its out of my control. There’s a lot fundraising involved to get those NCT seniors to DC. We’ll lineup with whoever is here,” explained Vitale.

Bears/Golden Hurricanes

One of the more intriguing tilts will be Central against Inverness-Citrus at 4 p.m. Monday.

Al Sorrentino                                                       Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

The Bears (4-4) fell twice last week while the Golden Hurricanes enter 4-5.

“I see a lot of good teams in the 16-team field compared to five years ago,” shared veteran Bears’ mentor Al Sorrentino, whose squad won this event in 2014.

“… There’s some quality teams coming. I’m not a betting man, but if I was, I’d think Mitchell and South Sumter will reach the finals.”

Central enters averaging 8.5 hits and almost seven runs per game, hitting a robust .316 as a team.

The Bears’ issues revolve around a defense that yielded 21 errors (2.63 miscues per game) and a pitching staff that has surrendered more walks (58) than strikeouts (52).

“Hitting hasn’t been an issue this season,” declared Sorrentino. “We can hit and we can score runs. But so far, we haven’t thrown strikes. We’re a pretty good team if we could throw strikes. It’s still early enough in the season to figure some these things out.

Tyler Adler

“Right now, I couldn’t tell you day-to-day which team is going to show up.”

As far facing Citrus, “We don’t know a whole lot about them,” remarked Sorrentino. “We’ve gotta concentrate on throwing strikes and catching the ball. I think we can find ways to score some runs.”

CHS is led offensively by seniors Nathanel Mota (.520), Tyler Adler (.484) and Justin Fribbley (.458).

With a win, CHD will most likely confront Mitchell at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Central Park.


WHAT – Tom Varn Baseball Tournament sponsored by Brooksville’s Farm Bureau Insurance.

Tom Varn

WHO – The 16-team field includes: Hernando County’s Central, Hernando, Nature Coast Technical, Springstead, Weeki Wachee; Citrus County’s Citrus, Crystal River and Lecanto; Pasco County’s Hudson-Fivay, Hudson, Land O’ Lakes, Land O’ Lakes-Sunlake, New Port Richey-Mitchell, New Port Richey-River Ridge, Zephyrhills and Sumter County‘s Bushnell-South Sumter. Each team is guaranteed three games (weather permitting). Defending tourney champion is Springstead.

WHERE – Four sites including: Hernando High’s Emerson Park, Central Park, Weeki Wachee and Springstead High.

WHEN – Monday, March 19 through Friday, March 23 (weather permitting).

AT STAKE – Top two teams received trophies.

2017 Final Tom Varn Baseball

Tournament Standings

Compiled by TONY CASTRO

                    Springstead Eagles













Spring Hill-Springstead$
























Weeki Wachee
























Brooksville-Nature Coast Technical












Land O’ Lakes












New Port Richey-River Ridge












New Port Richey-Mitchell
























Crystal River
























Land O Lakes-Sunlake
















































New Port Richey-Gulf



















$ Denotes tourney champion.

2017 Tom Varn Baseball Tournament sponsored by Brookville’s Farm Bureau Insurance



@ Central

Springstead 4, Central 2


@ Hernando

Citrus 6, Fivay 2

Hernando 6, Sunlake 3

@ Springstead

Crystal River 1, Gulf 0

Springstead 2, Land O’ Lakes 1 (6.5)

@ Central

Mitchell 10, Hudson 2

Central 18, Weeki Wachee 13

@ Weeki Wachee

Nature Coast Technical 5, Zephyrhills 4

River Ridge 5, Lecanto 2


Off day


@ Hernando

Hernando 13, Gulf 2

Land O’ Lakes 7, Crystal River 5

@ Springstead

Lecanto 10, Fivay 4

Springstead 7, Mitchell 2

@ Central

Citrus 9, Zephyrhills 1

Central 13, River Ridge 6

@ Weeki Wachee

Nature Coast Technical 6, Hudson 1

Weeki Wachee 3, Sunlake 1


@ Hernando

Land O’ Lakes 10, Gulf 0

Crystal River 4, Hernando 2

@ Springstead

Mitchell 4, Lecanto 0

Springstead 7, Fivay 1

@ Central

River Ridge 6, Citrus 0

Central 8, Zephyrhills 6

@ Weeki Wachee

Sunlake 6, Nature Coast Technical 1

Weeki Wachee 15, Hudson 3 (5)



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