BASEBALL PREVIEW: Area’s top team up for grabs entering season

By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports

The title for best team in the area is up for grabs on the diamond this season.

The Sun’s all-area player of the year, pitcher Matt LePoint, returns for his senior season at Port Charlotte after going 6-2 with a 1.85 ERA as a junior. But there are otherwise a host of question marks heading into the season for the Pirates, who are led by first-year coach Rodney Taylor, who is technically the team’s fourth coach in the last 10 months.

Lemon Bay was the only district champion from the area in 2016 and it hopes to capture another trophy in 2017. Last year, all-area honorees Trey Fields and Jaryd Clary led the Manta Rays, who have a mix of talented seniors, juniors and sophomores.

North Port was the only other area team to taste the postseason last year, finishing runner-up to Venice in District 7A-11. Outfielders Dominic LeFever and Charlie Davidson were both all-area honorees in 2016, scoring 46 runs combined. They’ll help provide the offense for a young pitching staff.

Charlotte also is part of North Port’s district, finishing third last season. The Tarpons bring back eight seniors and have three talented sophomores — Aaron Martins, Kevin Conway and Kyle Machado — already committed to play at Florida Gulf Coast. There’s a quiet confidence in Punta Gorda that this could be the year the Tarpons return to the postseason.

All four area teams will play each other at least once during the regular season, including this week when North Port faces off against Lemon Bay.

FOUR TO WATCH 

Matt LePoint, P Port Charlotte — Senior
LePoint was the Sun’s baseball player of the year, compiling a 6-2 record with a 1.85 ERA in 60.2 innings pitched. He finished with 55 strikeouts and surrendered two runs or fewer in seven of his 10 starts.

Trey Fields, IF/P Lemon Bay — Senior 
Fields can do it all — field, hit and pitch. He had a .457 batting average with 27 RBI as a junior, and he also struck out 69 batters
 over 49 innings pitched with a 1.28 ERA on the mound.

Charlie Davidson, OF North Port — Junior 
Davidson was a sophomore sensation for the Bobcats, hitting .402 with 11 extra base hits and scoring a team-high 27 runs. He also committed just one error as one of the top outfielders in the area.

Aaron Martins, C Charlotte — Sophomore
Martins made the Sun’s all-area team as a freshman and for good reason. In addition to controlling Charlotte’s pitching staff, Martins batted .333 while driving in 18 runs to go along with six extra base hits and six walks.

PORT CHARLOTTE 

COACH: Rodney Taylor
DISTRICT: 6A-11 (Cape Coral, Cypress Lake, Ida Baker, Island Coast, Mariner, North Fort Myers, Port Charlotte)
LAST SEASON: 11-16; lost to Ida Baker in district semifinals
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Brandt Little, Raven Jones, Christian Faldetta, Tim Smith, Corey Brightman, Matt Ranson, Mark Rooney, Steve Tacy, Matt Columbia, Tanner Beaty, Kevin Conway, Josh Gossett
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Matt Intihar (Sr., UTIL), Romain Reynolds (Sr., OF/C), Jason James (Sr., OF), Devin Rack (Sr., P), Spencer Burkhart (Sr., 1B/OF), Matt LePoint (Sr., P/IF), Dominic Delgaudio (Sr., P)
PROMISING NEWCOMERS: Hunter Wilder (So.), Mitchell Derocher (So.), Jordan Del Colle (So.), Eric Morales (So.)
OUTLOOK: The Pirates return the Sun’s 2016 all-area player of the year in LePoint, who was the area’s top pitcher last season. However, there are a lot of question marks heading into the season under first-year coach Rodney Taylor, who says some positions are still up in the air. Despite losing a lot of seniors and some transfers, the Pirates still have talent on a squad that could challenge for a playoff berth if they can stay healthy.

LEMON BAY 

COACH: Casey Hanrahan
DISTRICT: 5A-12 (DeSoto County, Dunbar, Lake Placid, Lemon Bay)
LAST SEASON: 15-10; won district title; lost to Lakewood in regional quarterfinals
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Zach Pellicciopti, Jaryd Clary, Stephen Yulee, Brian Rutan
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Trey Fields (Sr., IF/P), Matt Molinari (Sr., C), Warnner Rincones (Jr., SS), Zach Taylor (Sr., P/IF), Jacob Comer (Sr., P), Jacob Treece (Jr., OF/P), Tyler Kreissler (So, P/1B), Chace Shore (Jr., OF), Brandon Gielow (So., P/ OF), Flynn Stewart (So., IF)
PROMISING NEWCOMERS: Taylor Haynes (Jr., OF), Josh Gossett (So., C/OF), Josh Sweiderk (Sr., P/IF), Coleston Dukes (Jr., P/OF)
OUTLOOK: The Manta Rays return a strong core and will be competitive again this season as they try to defend their district crown. They can hit well, pitch well and field the ball well, while having players who can play multiple positions. Last year, all-area honorees Trey Fields and Jaryd Clary led a squad that is talented enough to repeat as district champions.

NORTH PORT

COACH: Dan Pavlue DISTRICT: 7A-11 (Charlotte, Fort Myers, North Port, Venice)
LAST SEASON: 12-16; lost to Naples in regional quarterfinals
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Zac Uecker, Justin Hartshorne, Daltyn Smith
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Charlie Davidson (Jr., IF/P), Nathan Vetter (Sr., C), Dominic LeFever (Sr., OF), Charlie Topp (Sr., IF/P), Patrick Smith (Sr., 1B/P)
PROMISING NEWCOMERS: Logan Polston (Jr., IF/P), Tyler O’Boyle (Sr., P)
OUTLOOK: The Bobcats bring back a lot of experience from a team that reached the playoffs last season. There’s also a mix of first-time varsity players to go along with some young pitchers, and coach Dan Pavlue is optimistic about his team’s chances to reach the postseason again in a very competitive district. Whether the Bobcats have the talent to overcome powerhouse Venice for a district title remains to be see.

CHARLOTTE

COACH: Lavell Cudjo
DISTRICT: 7A-10 (Fort Myers, Charlotte, North Port, Venice)
LAST SEASON: 11-10; lost to North Port in district semifinals
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Gibby Bittner, Ethan Vaughn
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Jake Eastman (Sr., P), Shane LeMaster (So. SS), Logan Tracy (Sr., OF), James Barnes (Sr., OF), Lavell Cudjo (Sr., OF), Garrett Dunson (Jr., 2B), Aaron Martins (So., C), Kyle Machado (So., P), Kevin Conway (So., 3B/P)
PROMISING NEWCOMERS: Kevin Conway (So., 3B/P), Anthony Seizer (So, IF)
OUTLOOK: With eight seniors returning and three sophomores already committed to play baseball at Florida Gulf Coast, the expectations are high for the Tarpons. Charlotte boasts a strong pitching rotation of Jake Eastman, Kyle Machado and Kevin Conway, who transferred from Port Charlotte, to go along with a lineup that can drive the ball around the park. If the Tarpons can stay healthy, the goal is to challenge Venice for the district title

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