High school baseball playoffs 2021: State title quest begins this week for teams

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The high school baseball playoffs get underway in full starting on Thursday night.

After the coronavirus scrapped last year’s spring sports playoffs, it’s a welcome sight that state champions will be crowned in 2021. Several area teams have legitimate state title expectations, notably Bolles in Class 3A and St. Johns Country Day in Class 2A.

A look at area first-round matchups on Thursday and Friday, with the exception of West Nassau’s game at North Marion. That game was moved up to Wednesday. All games at 7 p.m. unless indicated.

Thursday’s games

Region 1-5A

Pine Ridge (8-13) at Stanton (15-12)

Middleburg (11-14) at Ponte Vedra (11-14)

Region glance: The Blue Devils went to the playoffs six times in the 2010s but won just once (2012). They should be positioned well for a victory here. Cole Durham (.370) and Luke Wilson (.354) are Stanton’s top bats. Jerry Cox’s four victories are tops on the pitching staff. …Since playing for a regional final in 2013, the Broncos have dropped their last two playoff games. Trent White (.339, 16 RBI), Logan Baxley (.321) and Clay Hendry (.311) lead the Middleburg bats. Hendry is also the top arm for the Broncos (2-6, 63 Ks, 47.1 IP, 1.77 ERA). Ponte Vedra always seems to be in the playoffs, reaching seven times in the 2010s and winning a state title in 2013. Tyler Bernstein (.310) and Parker Gunnell (.306) are the only .300 and above bats on the Sharks, but Ponte Vedra finds ways to win. The Sharks are 5-2 in playoff openers.

Region 1-4A

Baker County (13-15) at Wakulla (15-10)

Atlantic (13-10) at Bishop Kenny (14-13)

West Nassau (13-13) at North Marion (17-8), Wednesday

Region glance: The Wildcats head down I-10 with a solid pitching staff — Easton Stevens (4-4, 70 Ks, 54.1 IP) leads the way — in search of their first playoff win since 2015. Cason Milton (.362, 17 RBI, 3 HR) and Jase Knapp (.360) are the offensive headliners. A win likely means a fourth matchup of the season against Santa Fe next week. …The Warriors play in the earliest baseball playoff game in the area as their opener against the Colts was moved up a day. West Nassau is looking for its first playoff win since the 2001 season. Jordan Rosepiler (.379) leads West Nassau at the plate. … Kenny has a solid pitching staff and that alone keeps it in games. John Costa (3-3, 37 Ks, 43.2 IP, 1.60 ERA) and Garrett Corbett (4-4, 36 Ks, 45.2 IP, 1.53 ERA) keeping opponents in check. Kenny just needs to score. Blake Barkoskie (.310) and Cal Leonard (.300) are the only hitters at .300 or better.

Region 1-3A

Episcopal (20-6) at Keystone Heights (15-12)

Baldwin (14-14) at Bolles (22-4)

Region glance: Solid region here. Keystone edged Baldwin in the district final and its reward is a tough, tough draw in Episcopal. Mike Moreland is the Indians’ top arm (1.85 ERA, 47 Ks in 60.2 IP), with Conner Guy (.381, 18 RBI), Carson Osteen (.361) and Carson Williams (.361) fronting the offense. Episcopal has played a challenging schedule and would like to get another crack at Bolles. Dillon Haines (.409, 16 RBI) and Connor McGarity (.400, 16 RBI) lead Episcopal at the plate. The pitching is tough, too. Haines (7-1, 1.37 ERA. 88 Ks, 51 IP) and Layton Perry (8-2, 57 Ks, 48.2 IP) are sub-1.50 ERA arms. … The Bulldogs were atop the Super 6 rankings down the homestretch of the season. Two of their losses came to St. Johns Country Day. Strong pitching keeps Bolles in every game. Their worst loss of the season was a 3-0 setback to the Spartans. Jackson Baumeister is the top arm here (6-2, 98 Ks in 52.1 IP, 0.80 ERA), but Sully Brackin (8-0, 1.75 ERA, 55 Ks, 48 IP) and Max Haug (7-0, 1.62 ERA, 33 Ks, 21.2 IP) show just how deep this staff runs. The offense is tough, too, with Tanner Zellem (.400) and Jaden Flowers (.391) leading a lineup that features eight regulars hitting above .300. Baldwin shocked Trinity Christian (3-1) in the district semifinals and has quality arms of its own. Jordan Rhoden (4-4, 57 Ks, 56.2 IP and hitting .354 with 24 RBI) and Tyson Pigney (3-3, 35 Ks, 32.1 IP) both sport ERAs under 2.20. The Indians are in the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and seeking their first postseason win since 1999.

Friday’s games

Region 1-7A

Spruce Creek (19-8) at Bartram Trail (22-5)

Mandarin (20-7) at Lake Mary (15-11)

Region glance: The Bears have been a Super 6 squad much of the season. The craziest thing about coach Ryan Fitzpatrick’s squad? There’s only three seniors on this team. They’ve won their last three playoff openers. Bartram has been very good this season, even with a younger lineup. Ashton Pocol blanked Bolles this season in a complete game and fired a complete game with seven Ks in a do-or-die game against Oakleaf in the district semifinals. Bryce Kemper has been strong on the hill. Kolt Myers has delivered big moments at the plate down the stretch. Justin Nadeau has been steady and producing all season. … The Gateway Conference champion Mustangs are led by Michael Stephens (.348) and Jordan Martin (18 RBI) lead at the plate. Chris Sarmie (5-2, 28 Ks, 43.1 IP, 1.62 ERA) and Nathan Webb (5-2, 63 Ks, 50 IP, 1.68 ERA) front a pitching staff that is among the area’s stingiest (1.58 ERA).

Region 1-6A

Lyman (6-17) at Fleming Island (21-5)

Creekside (15-11) at Winter Springs (13-13)

Region glance: The Golden Eagles have been one of the area’s best teams from the outset. They’ve got the consistent bats (Aidan Mastantuno, .382, 17 RBI and Drew Homitz, .368, 19 RBI lead five players hitting .350 or better) and excellent starting pitching. Cody Carwile (9-0, 100 Ks, 54 IP, 0.78 ERA) and Dylan Dudones (7-1, 59 Ks, 45.2 IP, 1.23 ERA) are nasty tough. … The Knights have had a solid year, up and down in spurts, but have shown that they cant beat top shelf competition. It starts with an excellent pitching staff, with Colby Frieda (6-2, 86 Ks, 56 IP, 0.75 ERA) one of the best arms in town. Frieda, a Kentucky signee, fronts a staff with a team ERA of 1.81. Bryce Brindle (.309), Carson McFarlin (.302) and Ty Martineau (.297) lead the Knights at the plate. A win sets up a likely district championship game rematch against Fleming Island.

Region 1-2A

Deltona Trinity Christian (3-15) at St. Johns Country Day (20-6)

University Christian (13-7) at St. Joseph (14-12)

Region glance: It’s the Spartans and everyone else in Class 2A. St. Johns is the presumptive favorite to coast through this region and contend for a state title. They are loaded, they’ve won nine straight and haven’t been so much as tested by a team in 2A. The pitching staff is deep, fronted by Brad Hodges. The bats are loaded, with Walker Matthews, Shawn Andrade, Jordan Taylor, Tyce Moore and Connor Moore leading the attack. … UC and St. Joseph is a very good opener. The Flashes have notched some impressive wins this season and played up in classification quite frequently. They’ve also swept UC this season. Hunter Pankey (.341) has clubbed four homers for the Flashes and is also the team’s top arm (4-3, 70 Ks, 46.2 IP, 2.70 ERA). Dylan Stojanovic (.355) and Aiden Torrez (.343) lead the St. Joseph bats. A win by St. Joseph would be its first in the playoffs since 1994. Trent May (.375), Nick Cates (.333) and Seth Alford (.323) lead UC at the plate.

Region 3-1A

Union County (20-4) at Liberty County (15-12)

Region glance: The Tigers slumped down the stretch following a 19-1 start. This is a very winnable opener which will likely set up a fourth meeting of the season next week against a Hamilton County squad that they are 1-2 against this year. Kyler Cohen (.414, 22 RBI), Quinten Rawls (.405) and Jake O’Steen (.394) lead Union at the plate. Tripp Davis (6-2, 70 Ks, 47.2 IP, 2.35 ERA) is the top arm for the Tigers.

Region 4-1A

Crescent City (7-16) at Newberry (21-1)

Region glance: The Raiders are in the postseason for the first time since 2015 and get a brutal assignment for it. Dylan Hutchings (.500, 26 RBI, 2 HR) and Hank Hamling (.475, 15 RBI) lead the Raiders at the plate. An upset would be historic for Crescent City. They last won a playoff game in 1981.

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