Top Teams, Players in 2022 Jacksonville High School Baseball Playoff Pursuit
To use a baseball analogy in the middle of the baseball season, this weekend is like the seventh inning, and it’s time to stretch.
Who is safe? Who went out ? And who needs a big late-inning boost to avoid being knocked out for the playoffs?
The Jacksonville High School baseball season will enter its final stages within the next two weeks, and by the end of the month, First Coast teams will be preparing for Florida High School Athletic Association district tournaments.
Schools in northeast Florida are vying to move up the rankings to begin the march to Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, site of the May 18-25 FHSAA Baseball Championships.
This year, as in most other team sports, these rankings – a modified version of the MaxPreps formula – take center stage for the FHSAA. Once the association locks in the numbers on April 23, the standings will determine the seeds for district tournaments, and they will ultimately determine which teams will receive playoff berths with automatically qualified district champions.
Monday also marks another key date for Duval County, the start of the Gateway Conference baseball tournament. Mandarin beat First Coast in last year’s final, while teams such as Fletcher, Sandalwood and Stanton are also among the top contenders.
Here’s a look at how teams in the Jacksonville area are doing.
St. Johns Campaign Day
Yes, there’s the 15-2 record and long list of future Division I baseball players (Bradley Hodges at Virginia, Finn Howell at North Florida, and Jordan Taylor at Florida State, to name three). But those prospects are only part of the Spartans’ dominance to start 2022. This team is a steamroller even against elite national teams, like New Jersey’s Don Bosco Prep, flattened by a rule count of the clemency at the USA Baseball National High School Invitational in North Carolina earlier this month. There are no easy exits in this roster, and some of the most productive Spartans of recent times, like sophomores Kyle Boylston and Kody Daneault, still have more than two years ahead of them. Several national outlets now rank the Spartans in the top 25 in the United States. At this point, there’s every reason to believe St. Johns, this year’s Class 2A runner-up, has the strength and depth to make one last trip to the bottom four and maybe bring home a title. long-awaited state.
First Coast Varsity Weekly:St. Johns Country Day makes an impression at USA Baseball NHSI
Surging Spartan:Bradley Hodges on fire early for St. Johns Country Day in 2022
Long bullet threat
Bradley Hodges, St. Johns Country Party
Beating opponents with devastating efficiency in the first two months of the Spartans’ final season, Hodges surpassed even exorbitant preseason expectations. The numbers from the weekend: a .533 batting average, five doubles, seven home runs, 21 RBIs, four steals and a 1.549 OPS. It’s been nearly impossible to retire all season, three times on strikes in 67 plate appearances. The even scarier thing for opponents? Hodges is equally deadly on the mound, where he’s 7-0 with 23 base runners allowed all year in 37 1/3 innings against elite-level competition, striking out 77 and wielding an ERA. of 0.94.
Malachi Witherspoon, Fletcher
First, the obvious: With a college commitment to the University of Jacksonville and a fastball capable of hitting the mid-’90s, it’s no surprise Witherspoon was good. But he’s been better than good in 2022 – more often than not he’s been downright untouchable. He’s 6-1 on the mound, with staggering numbers in 33 innings pitched: 65 strikeouts, just nine hits allowed and a 0.42 ERA at the lowest. In his last outings, he allowed just one hit in 5 2/3 innings at Ridgeview on Tuesday and totally baffled the powerhouse Sandalwood with an 11-out hit.
As far as surprise teams go, the Knights aren’t exactly amazing. They have been close to the playoff hunt on several occasions over the past few years and held a 6-1 record in March 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic halted play. Yet the FHSAA playoffs have been floating just beyond Oakleaf’s reach since 2017, a frustrating wait that could end this spring. They’re a well-rounded team, with a .273 batting average and 2.61 ERA, knocking out opponents at a clip over one per inning. Leading that roster are senior Leo Diaz (.375, 6 2B, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 1,096 OPS) and junior Devin Dizon (.360, 5 2B, 13 RBI, 1,004 OPS). Oakleaf can also move on base paths, especially second Jaythan Arriaga (18 interceptions) and outfielder/running back Devin Outlaw. They also field a particularly versatile player in second year Jorden Clarke, excellent this season on the mound (4-1, 1.56 ERA, 36 K in 31 1/3 IP).
Power team on the bubble
The Mustangs are 15-3, reign as Gateway Conference champions and his own victories over Bishop Kenny, First Coast and Oakleaf. So how can the Mustangs be on the bubble, with the eighth best rating in the 1-7A region? The short answer comes down to the FHSAA’s ranking formula, which seems unimpressed with the strength of Mandarin’s timing (the association’s formula ranks it at 0.47, versus Bartram Trail’s 11.28) in a region filled with suitors. So while Mustang fans would rather not hear it, there’s still work to be done. Luckily, Mandarin can rely on a one-two shot combination to rank with the best in town in Jordan Martin (4-1, 1.03 ERA, 47K, 34 IP) and Nathan Webb (4-2 , 1.87 ERA, 34K, 30IP). A strong Gateway tournament this week could give the Mandarin a crucial boost ahead of the districts.
Team on the move
Seven in a row for the Senators. Fletcher hasn’t lost a game since March, beating Christ’s Church, Sandalwood, Union County, Paxon, White, Ridgeview and Creekside while allowing a grand total of four runs in that span. The key to success is a dose of double trouble. The Senators have a team ERA of 1.96, paced by the aforementioned Malachi Witherspoon at the top of the rotation as well as Kyson Witherspoon (2-0, three saves, 20 2/3 IP, 46 K, 0, 34 ERA) in relief. Malachi Witherspoon also hits home big with a .436 ERA, two homers, 15 RBIs and 1.125 OPS, while Vinnie Sicilia (.359, two doubles, three triples, .999 OPS) and Angel Oquendo (.283 , 11 RBI, eight steals) are also key contributors in the batting order. They are the early favorites in what should be a competitive District 3-6A tournament.
The race for the playoffs: where the teams are
Sandalwood (1), Bartram Trail (4), Oakleaf (6), Mandarin (8), Creekside (14), Flagler Palm Coast (19)
Tallahassee Leon (4), Tallahassee Chiles (6), Gainesville Buchholz (7), Fleming Island (18)
Fletcher (5), Nease (12), First Coast (15), Ponte Vedra (16), Atlantic Coast (17)
Columbia (1), St. Augustine (7), Middleburg (9), Gainesville (12), Ridgeview (14), Orange Park (16)
Stanton (5), Englewood (11), Westside (15), Riverside (17), Parker (19), White (20)
Suwannee (1), Wakulla (5), Baker County (6), Tallahassee Godby (18), Gadsden County (21)
Clay (2), Bishop Kenny (7), Paxon (12), Yulee (13), Menendez (14), Tocoi Creek (15), Raines (22), Ribault (24)
Alachua Santa Fe (4), Dunnellon (7), North Marion (11), Palatka (16), Lake Weir (17), Gainesville Eastside (19)
Bishop Snyder (3), Baldwin (10), Keystone Heights (14), West Nassau (15), PK Yonge (21)
Providence (2), Episcopal (5), Bolles (6), Fernandina Beach (8), Wolfson (13), Jackson (24)
St. Johns Country Day (1), Trinity Christian (2), Eagle’s View (8), First Coast Christian (14)
University Christian (4), Christ’s Church (10), Parsons Christian (16), Seacoast Christian (17)
Gainesville Oak Hall (7), St. Joseph (9), Gainesville St. Francis (12), Peniel Baptist (18), Country Christian (20)
Union County (2), Fort White (4), Hilliard (5), Bradford (13)
Note: The ordinal rankings of schools in their respective regions are in parentheses, based on the April 11-15 edition of FHSAA’s weekly rankings.
Five key matches to watch
April 21: Oakleaf at Episcopal
April 22: Bartram Trail to St. Johns Country Day
April 23: Suwannee to Clay
April 25: Trinity Christian at Sandalwood
April 28: Bolles at St. Johns Country Day
Clayton Freeman covers high school sports and more for the Florida Times-Union. Follow him on Twitter at @CFreemanJAX.