Baseball State Tournament Preview

Baseball State Tournament Preview

OCALA--There hasn't been anyone better during the final stretch of the Region 8 baseball season than the College of Central Florida.

The Patriots (32-17) are 15-2 since mid-March and have battled back from a 3-9 start in the Mid-Florida Conference to qualify for the Region 8 Tournament, which starts Sunday at Florida Southern College's Henley Field in Lakeland, Fla.

CF will kick off tournament play on Sunday at 4 p.m. against St. Petersburg College.

The two teams split during the regular season.

The Patriots lost 14-11 on February 10 in a game they led 6-0 early, before they returned the favor with a 9-6 win in Ocala after falling down 4-1.

CF is back in the state tournament after missing last season.

The Patriots finished third in the MFC, but knocked off two nationally-ranked teams the final week of the regular season, including No. 1 Santa Fe College.

From there, CF knocked off Miami Dade 10-6 in Winter Haven in the play-in game to qualify as a wildcard entry into the tournament. 

In that game, the pitching duo of Cooper Wallace and David Lebron helped pull the Patriots, while a late-inning explosion by the potent CF offense, helped the program gain a measure of revenge against the team that eliminated them from the Region 8 Tournament in 2014.

Wallace (9-3, 3.58 ERA) and Lebron (7-2, 2.08) both earned Region 8 Pitcher of the Week during CF's late-season surge.

Before that, the Patriots had allowed opponents to score in double figures a whopping eight times.

During the month of April, CF held eight of its 11 opponents to three runs or less, aided by the starting staff and a bullpen, paced by Robby Frantzis, who was dominant down the stretch in terms of keeping opponents off the scoreboard. 

The strong pitching paid dividends in tight games. 

CF won its final two games decided by one-run in MFC play and made a successful rebound from an 0-4 start.

On offense, CF has been led by Kentucky signee Luke Heyer (.368, 12 HR, 61 RBI), John Cassala (.391, 8 HR, 63 RBI), Kevin Gomez (.370, 13 RBI), Bradley Felkel (.301, 8 HR, 33 RBI) and B.J. Harmon (.340, 2 HR, 17 RBI). 

Heyer and Cassala have recorded 19 hits since April 1 for CF.

Down the stretch, Heyer has knocked in 12 runs and ripped seven doubles.

Cassala, who had six RBI in the Patriots' tournament-clinching win over Lake Sumter, had 16 RBI and three homers during April.

Harmon has also been strong, as he had 16 hits, eight runs scored and eight RBI over the final month, while Levi Hollingsworth had recorded 21 hits since March 21.

To help see the Patriots off to Lakeland, Uncle Maddio's Pizza will throw a send-off party this Saturday at noon. There will be signed baseballs, t-shirts and giveaways.

CF's baseball team will receive a percentage of the profits during the sendoff. 

The Patriots will arrive at noon to eat and greet well wishers and then depart for Lakeland at 1 p.m.