Spring soon will be here, and you can tell because high school baseball season is beginning across Palm Beach County Monday.
Last year, four Palm Beach County teams made to Fort Myers for the state playoffs. One, Trinity Christian, came back with hardware.
Here’s a look at whether those four teams can make it back:
American Heritage: The Stallions might have the best chance of any team in the county to win a championship. American Heritage made it to the state semis before falling to Clearwater-Calvary Christian 7-1. The Stallions’ biggest strength is their pitching staff, and most of those pitchers are back with another year of experience. Nelson Berkwich (5-1, three saves, 1.24 ERA) and Ben Vespi (5-3, 1.75 ERA) are going into their sophomore years. Junior Carmine Lane (5-2, 1.14 ERA), the veteran of the staff, also returns. Berkwich and Lane were first-team All-Area picks last year, while Vespi was a second-teamer.
Dwyer: The Panthers’ season ended in Fort Myers with a 2-1 loss to Ponte Vedra Beach-Nease. That was the last high school game for many of the team’s key standouts, including pitchers Justin Allintoff, Jack Iervolino and Shane Roberts as well as hitters Dylan Arcadipane, Myles Colangelo and Kyle Khachadourian. Two of those players were first-team All-Area picks, and two more were honorable mentions. That doesn’t mean the Panthers are devoid of talent, though. Danny Lynch and Charlie Von Werne were two of the team’s top hitters and they return. The team will need new contributors to step up this season, especially on the pitcher’s mound.
Jupiter: The Warriors graduated a supremely talented group of seniors. From the lineup, Reese Albert (.313, three homers, 29 RBIs; now at Florida State), Mason Doolittle (.281, three homers, 27 RBIs; now at Palm Beach State) and Anthony Servideo (.436, 10 extra-base hits, 15 steals; now at Ole Miss) were all first-team All-Area picks. Key contributors Tyler Ward, Andrew Martinez and Noah Otero-Vargas also graduated, as did key starting pitcher Zach Chivers. Jupiter will rely on role players from last year, such as infielder Dakota Gaillard and Ricky Clark, as well as burgeoning stars Mitchell Hartigan (Florida Atlantic commit) and Jake Garland (Miami commit) to fill the void left by last year’s seniors.
Trinity Christian: Based on recent history, the Warriors have the best chance to win a state title. After all, they’ve won the Class 2A title the last two seasons. Trinity Christian returns maybe the biggest bat in the county, reigning Small Schools Offensive Player of the Year Angel Tiburcio, who hit .440 with seven home runs last season. He’s joined in the lineup by shortstop and first-team pick Kaeber Rog (.416, 13 doubles, three triples and a home run) and second-team infielder B.J. Murray (.321, two home runs). Tiburcio also starred in the rotation, going 4-1 with two saves and a 2.08 ERA in 13 games, and he is joined by Jorge Zambrano (5-1, three saves, 1.04 ERA) at the top of the rotation.
Teams to Watch
American Heritage: The Stallions are hoping a return to the state championship is in the cards.
Atlantic: The Eagles won District 13-8A last year and are aiming to get past the regional semis, where they lost to Fort Lauderdale-St. Thomas Aquinas.
Benjamin: New coach Jack Armstrong, a former major leaguer, could take his son, Kris, and the rest of the Buccaneers to the next level.
Dwyer: The Panthers have several key seniors to replace but remain a talented team.
Jupiter: After losing several Division I seniors, the Warriors hope to reload instead of rebuild.
Palm Beach Central: The Broncos surprised the county by beating Jupiter and winning the District 9-9A title, and now they hope to get farther in the playoffs.
Park Vista: After losing key players to graduation and transfer, the Cobras need new faces and returning standouts to keep them at their high level of success.
Santaluces: The Chiefs hope to make some noise in a district Park Vista has typically dominated.
Trinity Christian: The back-to-back Class 2A champions are hoping to make it a trifecta, and the Warriors have the talent to do it.
Wellington: The Wolverines lost some key seniors, but they return senior catcher Dylan Tosto and pitcher Connor Dunnam and Alex Mendez.
Players to Watch
Kris Armstrong, Benjamin, Sr., UTIL: The Florida Gators commit is a threat at the plate and on the mound. He hit .375 with 26 RBIs while posting a 2.13 ERA.
Brendan Bell, Park Vista, Sr., P: Took a back seat in the Cobras’ rotation last year, with Emanuel Fernandez and James Marinan getting most starts. But now the Florida Gulf Coast commit, who was 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 32 strikeouts, gets a chance to shine.
Nelson Berkwich, American Heritage, So., P: Limited by injury for part of last season, he still had a dominant year. After pitching for the American U-15 team during the offseason, Berkwich could get even better.
Drew Kendall, Park Vista, Sr., OF: The Wake Forest commit and second-team All-Area pick batted .338 with 15 RBIs.
Zach Mazur, Oxbridge Academy, Sr., C: A Notre Dame commit (like his battery-mate Alex Rao), he hit .368 with three home runs and 14 RBIs.
A.J. Orrico, Santaluces, Sr., IF: The first-team All-Area selection batted .433 with six extra-base hits and 23 steals. He drew 27 walks while striking out only seven times.
Jorel Ortega, Spanish River, Sr., IF: The Tennessee commit hit .418 with 15 RBIs as the Sharks’ shortstop last year. He was a first-team All-Area pick.
Pablo Ruiz, Forest Hill, Jr., IF: The Central Florida commit had a breakout sophomore year, hitting .400 with four home runs while also stealing nine bases.
Isaiah Thomas, Benjamin, Sr., OF: The Vanderbilt commit excelled in his junior season, hitting .347 with five home runs, 24 RBIs and 18 steals.
Angel Tiburcio, Trinity Christian, Sr., UTIL: Last year’s Small Schools Player of the Year is a dominant force on the mound and with a bat. The Florida International commit hit .440 and led the county with seven home runs.