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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 29, 2018 8 months ago

Longstanding baseball tournament helps teams find their groove

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The Sarasota Baseball Classic will wrap up tonight.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

UPDATE: On March 28, Riverview lost 9-2 to Charlotte High, Sarasota beat Tate High 7-1 and Cardinal Mooney fell 6-2 to Miami Beach. The tournament's championship game will be between Charlotte and Venice High on March 29 at 7:30 p.m. in Venice. 

The Major League Baseball season starts this week, meaning the Baltimore Orioles are no longer in town for all to enjoy.

That doesn’t mean there’s no baseball you should be watching, however.

Sarasota High shortstop Nick Winkelmeyer slices a ball to the outfield against Saint Petersburg.

Sarasota’s high school scene is in full swing, hitting its midseason apex this week with the Sarasota Baseball Classic. For 33 years, the Classic has brought together both local and out-of-region teams, and that’s no different this year. Sarasota High, Riverview High and Cardinal Mooney High are all playing, as are 11 other teams, including Miami Beach High and California’s San Marino High. Host sites include the Sailors’ and Rams’ home venues, Twin Lakes Park, and Venice High.

The tournament means different things to different teams.

For Sarasota coach Clyde Metcalf, who helped start the tournament alongside former Riverview coach Larry Altier, it’s a chance to get as many kids in the games as possible, since teams play four days in a row. It’s also the closest thing to the playoffs as you’ll find at this point in the season, and Metcalf wants his team to get accustomed to the grind. The tournament is fun, but Metcalf remains serious about the games themselves. In the Sailors’ March 27 game against Saint Petersburg High — in which Sarasota was the away team at their own field — Metcalf pulled out a player for not running through first base on a pop-up to right field. The ball fell in play, and Metcalf thought the runner could have reached second base if he had been hustling.

Everything worked out for the Sailors, though, as they beat the Green Devils 7-6.

Sailors sophomore Michael Dorso, who went 3-3 with two doubles against Saint Petersburg, said the team wants to mirror the run it made last season, when, after scuffling at the start of the season, the team got hot before the playoffs and reached the state semifinals. The team is 7-6 as of March 28, but the offensive explosion, coupled with a fiery talk the coaching staff had with the team on March 27 after a loss to Bartow High, might be what the Sailors needed, he said.

Riverview High senior Stephen Wilmer fires a pitch to the plate against Braden River High.
Riverview High senior Stephen Wilmer fires a pitch to the plate against Braden River High.

Riverview High is hoping for similar fortunes. The Rams, under new coach Jeremy Schmidt, are 7-5, lost their two games preceding the tournament by a combined 5-0. Their offense, too, broke out with the Classic’s help. Riverview beat Saint Petersburg 7-3 on March 27 and Braden River High 9-6 on March 28 to stay in the winner’s bracket.

Schmidt knows exactly what the tournament means to players because he played in it himself, for the Sailors under Metcalf, as did his assistant coaches. Schmidt said his team’s approach at the plate has been better during the tournament, laying off pitches it chased earlier in the year. He’s happy with the results, but he also knows how tough both the remaining tournament games and the rest of the season will be.

“You just want a good showing for your school,” Schmidt said. “It’s a great tradition. To win our first two games against two good teams is a good start. The farther you go, the deeper your pitching staff goes. You have to play sound baseball.”

Cardinal Mooney fell to Coral Park High 9-2 on March 27 before rebounding to beat San Marino 5-1 on March 28. The Cougars are 9-6 heading into the season’s home stretch thanks in large part to their pitching staff, who threw back-to-back no-hitters (as a staff) against Imagine North Port in February.

Whether these teams pounce on the promise shown at the Classic remains to be seen, but at the very least, the tournament is filling a hole in the hearts of its participants. Asked if there was any way he would rather spend his spring break, Dorso said no.

“I’ve already had my beach day,” Dorso said with a smile. “It’s good to be back out here with all the guys, on the field, getting a win.”

I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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