There’s nothing easy about playoff baseball, but you wouldn’t think that’s true if you’ve been watching the Venice baseball team over the past two weeks.
The Indians have cruised through four playoff games, shutting out every opponent they’ve faced on their way to another district championship and a berth in tonight’s (Wednesday’s) regional final game.
These past four wins have elevated Venice’s record to 23-6 on the year, which has bumped them up to the No. 3 team in all of Florida, and the No. 1 team in FHSAA Class 7A competition, according to MaxPreps.
Ranked as the favorite in their class and playing with a homefield advantage tonight, the Indians are in prime position to make a serious run at their sixth state title.
Standing in the way of a trip to states are the Osceola Warriors of Seminole — a 19-10 team out of District 7A-10.
I’ve honestly never heard of the Warriors before this past week, and certainly haven’t seen them play — so I asked Tampa Bay Times sports writer Rodney Page what we should expect.
The Indians will host the Warriors tonight (Wednesday) at 7:30 with ace Orion Kerkering on the mound. Win or lose, this game is going to be one you won’t want to miss.
Who are the Warriors?Ranked 110th in Florida and with a 4-6 record in regular season district play, the Warriors haven’t had nearly as good of a season as the Indians.
It took close wins in most of their playoff games — 4-3 over Northeast (19-7), 5-3 over Mitchell (25-2), 2-0 over Lennard (18-7) and 5-4 over Braden River (16-13) — to reach the regional final for Osceola.
Led by a core group of sophomores, the Warriors are a year or two ahead of schedule.
Osceola certainly wasn’t pegged as the favorite to get here, as the Warriors upset a then-25-0 Mitchell team for the district title.
However, the team has been heating up as of late and will likely have sophomore ace Corey Braun on the mound.
Though his 8-2 record and 1.28 ERA stand out right away, the left-hander has allowed 53 hits in his 52 2/3 innings and has struck out 47 and walked 14.
According to Page, Braun is not a hard thrower — fastball in the mid to high 70’s — and relies on breaking pitches and good control to keep hitters off-balance.
Though Braun is the Warriors’ big-game pitcher, his lack of overpowering stuff could see the team turn to their relief pitchers after the second time through the order.
Out of the bullpen, another sophomore — Aaron Deegan — has put together an impressive season with a 1.83 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 23 innings.
The Warriors also have a solid core of young hitters, and are a balanced and fundamentally sound lineup.
They’ve averaged over five runs per game and hit .287 as a team, while they hardly strike out — recording double-digit strikeouts in just one game this season.
The Curleys — Payne (senior) and Miles (freshman) — are Osceola’s top hitters, with Payne hitting .383 with a team-high seven doubles and Miles hitting .380 with two home runs.
Along with the Curelys, sophomore Eddie Daraphet has also been a speedy weapon for the Warriors — hitting .333 with a team-high 24 runs.
On the basepaths, watch out for Daraphet (14 steals) and sophomore Michael Doyle (15 steals).
How they got hereOsceola may be a young team that lost more district games than it won this year, but that doesn’t mean the Warriors aren’t dangerous.
The path to tonight’s (Wednesday’s) game has been telling of what the Warriors are capable of doing.
After finishing out the regular season by losing three of their last four games, the Warriors turned it on in the playoffs — beginning with a 12-2 win over Dixie Hollins.
Page said that pitching and defense have been at the heart of Osceola’s success this postseason, as it held previously undefeated Mitchell to a three-run lead before storming back late and shutout Lennard in a 2-0 win.
Though Braun, No. 2 starter Zach Butler and the relievers don’t have blow-by velocity or elite breaking stuff, they win their games by throwing strikes and pitching to contact.
Backed up by a defense that has a season-long .955 fielding percentage, Osceola dares teams to try to find openings in the field.
However, with a young team new to deep playoff runs playing a true road game for the first time since the district semifinals, the Warriors might be in over their heads going against the No. 1 overall team in 7A competition on their home field.
Prediction: Venice 6 — Osceola 1