Dixie Baseball
One-third of this weekend’s nine-team District 6 AAA Majors (ages 11-12) Tournament field arrives in Bushnell courtesy of Hernando County.

Interestingly, the district champion and second- and third-place teams will advance following the double-elimination affair to the AAA Majors Florida State Championship beginning July 14 at Brooksville’s Ernie Wever Youth Park.

Starting with Saturday’s opening round – featuring four games – the District 6 Tournament will take place at the Kenny Dixon Sports Complex.

The confirmed field includes: host Bushnell, Sumter, Ridge Manor, San Antonio, Spring Hill American, Spring Hill National, South Lake, Wildwood and Oak Griner.

Eight of the nine teams will participate Saturday as San Antonio drew the opening-round bye into Monday night’s action

Since Brooksville is hosting states, its Hernando Youth League team received an automatic bye.

Another fledgling Dixie program – Wesley Chapel – chose not to compete in the AAA Majors event and instead opted to play in the Ozone Tournament.

Since 2003, the Spring Hill American and National nines have collected five district titles and have gone on to raise three state championship banners – including back-to-back efforts in this age group in 2010-11.

Over the past 11 seasons, Spring Hill American has captured nearly 60 percent – or 31-of-52 – of its District 6 games.

The American all-star squad features a 12-man roster: OF/P Nick Vastano, OF Kobe Simon, OF Jason Kirkpatrick, SS/P/C Brandon Frangione, 2B/P Ryan Lotito, OF Brian Hlavac, 3B/P Richie Hopper, C/P/SS Kevin Tomas, OF Domenick Rado, OF Luke Howard, C/P Philip Orlando and 1B Jonathon Allion.

Both Orlando and Allion are returning all-stars from 2011.

SH American will be guided by Frank Frangione. Frangione will be aided by assistant coaches Mike Rado and Brian Hlavac.

Frangione is 3-2 lifetime at the helm. His 2010 SH National AAA Minors club won its first three games before being eliminated.

Frangione’s first impressions of the club have raised his team’s expectations.

“Overall, we’re very athletic. We’re balanced and we’re disciplined,” said Frangione.

Offensively, Coach Frangione believes his team can adapt to different styles of pitching they’ll face.

“What I love most? That we have guys who can hit it out and there’s no question we have guys who can drop it down,” he said. “This is a team that’s not individually based. They’ll do whatever it takes.

“I am curious to see how they perform together,” he added. “We’ve practiced for 16 days; the kids are ready to play. I’m excited for them.”

Lotito will lead things off for SH American.

On Lotito, the coach said, “I love how he works the count. He’ll go the other way with the pitch. He knows his job is to get on base and he’s a very smart player.”

On Tomas, “He’s a contact hitter with power who has the ability to drop one down. He’ll disguise his at-bats real well,” Coach Frangione said.

Look for Brandon Frangione, the left-handed hitting Allion and Orlando as the main mashers.

On the trio, “As a whole, they’re pretty scary. They’re line-drive, power hitters. I would say they’re real hard to pitch around,” the coach said.

Defensively, Coach Frangione has turned a negative into a positive.

“Last time I coached, we only had two catchers, unfortunately, they also both pitched – that limited us a little bit,” he recalled. “This time, we have three catchers who all have travel ball experience. They (Frangione, Tomas and Orlando) can all drop and block.”

Coach Frangione has penciled in Lotito at second base and Simon at shortstop. Tomas or the younger Frangione can easily fill in at shortstop.

Expect the “unflappable” Kirkpatrick to anchor center field while Vastano and Orlando flank him.

On the hill, “We have a bunch of number twos. If we hit our marks, we’ll be fine. We don’t have that one guy who throws lights-out. I don’t see the lack of an ace as a bad thing,” explained Coach Frangione. “When the chips are down, our guys can throw strikes.”

SH American understands it’s wading into enemy waters with Bushnell waiting for a 10 a.m. tourney-opening clash.

“Our first-round game is everything,” said Coach Frangione, not avoiding the issue of opening against possibly the best team in the tournament. “It’s crucial. I see two really good teams ready to play.

“It’s a tough draw for us and for them,” he added. “I’d rather go into any tournament as the unknown factor and then make a name for ourselves. If we bring our ‘A’ game only good things can happen.”

On the opener, both Simon and Hopper have been battling 102-degree fevers – both, however, are expected to play.

“We’ll watch both guys very carefully,” said Coach Frangione. “We need everyone to contribute. Are we the absolute favorites to win? No. Could we win it? Absolutely; there is no question in my mind. To me, Bushnell is the favorite. But we’ve got the talent (to win).”

Spring Hill National has the distinction of carving out back-to-back AAA Majors state crowns behind skippers Al Sorrentino and Shawn Laferty.

Since 2001, the program has excelled in this age group capturing nearly 71 percent (36-of-51) of its District 6 tilts.

The 2012 National edition features: CF/2B Enrique Brown, 2B/P/C Johnny Moran, INF/OF

Trevor Adler, SS/P Chris Cesiro, 1B/2B/P Stevie Clark, OF/1B Nick Collins, OF/3B/P

Hailey Smith, P/1B Reagan Chapman, INF/OF/P Tyler Adler, 3B/P/C Dakota Blevens, P/C/OF Max Glenn and OF Will DiCono.

One of the most impressive features of this team is its seven returning all-stars from 2011: Moran, Trevor and Tyler Adler, Smith, Blevens, Glenn and DiCono.

At the helm of SH National is first-time all-star skipper Will Glenn. He’ll be assisted by Keith Moran and Anthony Cesiro.

National has an interesting blend.

According to Coach Glenn, “Since day one of practice we’ve preached attitude and effort and that we play to be something bigger than ourselves. Even though we’ve had a lot of rain recently, and that some of the players have never played together, I think we’ve joined together and we believe in one another.

“We have six 11-year-olds and six 12-year-olds,” noted Coach Glenn. “We have two leftovers from our World Series run last year in Max (Glenn) and Johnny (Moran). … We have a nice mix. We keep pushing each other to achieve a higher level of play that we know can only be reached when we work together as one.”

On the bump, “Our pitching staff is a little nasty. We have Max (Glenn) and Reagan (Chapman) that have three speeds: hard, harder and hardest. Johnny (Moran), Stevie (Clark) and Chris (Cesiro) all have pitches that flat-out drop off the table. When you mix that in with good fastballs they are deceptive and hard to hit. Not to mention Dakota (Blevens), Hailey (Smith) and Tyler (Adler) – they can all come in and deal,” the coach said.

Defensively, Coach Glenn has penciled in Blevens and Chapman at the corners.

On his alignment, Coach Glenn said, “Dakota is the ideal third baseman. He’s old school – not afraid of the ball. Has a great arm and moves real well left to right, and back and forth. Reagan at first gives you a huge target to throw to. I think he just hit 6-foot or 6-foot-1 a couple of weeks ago. He has a lot of confidence whether at first or on the bump. I’m expecting a good tournament from him.

Continuing up the middle, “Chris (Cesiro) and Johnny (Moran), I just can’t say enough about these two up the middle. I’ve been around a lot of travel teams in the past few years and have seen some of the best teams in the state. Let’s just say these two can flat-out ball.

“Then there’s Stevie (Clark). Stevie is our utility player, can play anywhere and does it with great success. Stevie again is one of those kids that just likes to get dirty. Like a lot of our players, Stevie has had a ton of reps and played in a lot of games over the past few years.

In the outfield, look for Smith, Brown, Tyler and Trevor Adler, DiCono and Collins.

Describing his outfield, “Enrique is kind of the anchor in center field. He’s fast and gets to the ball. The others will alternate between left and right depending on the pitching. And there’s no mistaking these five know the game. Each has a very high baseball IQ. I just can’t say enough about their attitudes,” Coach Glenn said.

Max Glenn, the coach’s son, is the primary catcher.

“The pitchers feel comfortable with him behind the plate,” described his father. “Mechanically he’s strong and has a big arm behind the plate. Some teams know him so I don’t see a lot off stealing attempts or runners getting too far off the bag. We hope they do, though. Since he’s in front of the plays,

“Max needs to run the defense intelligently and take care of the ebb and flow of the game. When Max is pitching, Johnny (Moran) will catch.”

On the team’s offense, “We don’t have as much home run power as we did last year,” said Coach Glenn. “They’re all good contact hitters and will put a lot of pressure on the defense to make plays.

“It’s really hard putting a lineup together because we have so many interchangeable parts. We can hit; and strategically we probably won’t use the same lineup twice. The players that step it up in this type of situation control their own destiny.

“As of now we’re looking at Johnny (Moran) and Chris (Cesiro) at the top. Both hit for high average and can spray the ball around. They’re disciplined and will find a way on base. It’s important they get us off to a quick start.

“Right now, Max (Glenn) and Stevie (Clark) are at three and four. I think Max led districts last year in RBIs. He needs to do what he does best today … hit the ball hard somewhere. Stevie may not be your typical cleanup hitter, but he’ll put the ball in play hard and hits for high average.”

SH National opens against Sumter at 12 p.m.

“Our goal is to play the game properly every day,” emphasized Coach Glenn. “I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s not. We’re going to aim high and not underestimate any team.

“Bushnell has put together a very good team and they’re hosting the tournament,” noted Glenn. “I know they’ve played a lot of competitive travel games this year and have a ton of confidence. I give them much credit. They open up with the other Spring Hill team on the first day. You could possibly say those are the two of the best teams in the tournament. It should be a good one.”

How will SH National fare?

“As far as us, I don’t know where we fit in this field of nine,” shrugged Coach Glenn. “From day one we’ve preached effort and attitude. If we get a 100 percent from our players, I guarantee we’ll see results. But right now we’re keeping the blinders on. We are sharpening our focus. And our sense of urgency is to win that first pitch against Sumter.”

Hernando County’s smallest program, Ridge Manor, would love to tote home a District 6 title.

But first-year all-star skipper Danny Smith is a realist. For a program that hasn’t won a District 6 Tournament game going back to 2001 (0-18), he’d enjoy “playing in three games.”

“We’re from a small program that doesn’t have many kids to pick from,” explained Smith. “We have 3-4 kids who are on the team that had never played ball before this year. They’re on the team because they’ve progressed during the regular season and they’ve shown a lot of heart.”

The 2012 Ridge Manor AAA Majors roster features: C/P/SS Kelden Pupello, OF Ashton Richart, 1B/P Connor Leonard, CF/2B/P Justin Smith, 2B/CF Aaron Norris, OF Dakota LaPlant,

OF Ryan Zupancic, SS/P/C Brent Oliver, P/1B/SS J.T. Short, 3B/C/P Gabe Littlefield, OF Travis Parish and OF Charlie Whitten IV.

Ridge Manor has three returning all-stars: Littlefield, Leonard and Pupello.

Coach Smith will be aided by assistant coaches Chip Oliver and Dennis Pupello.

Coach Smith, who has practiced with his squad for nearly a month, did not want to single-out any one player.

“The idea behind this team was to get a bunch of guys from different teams and play as one,” identified Coach Smith.

Offensively, Smith says, “Our first 6-7 guys can hit the ball pretty hard. We’ve improved our batting since we started practice.”

Defensively, Ridge Manor has several interchangeable parts.

“My feeling is our infield is pretty strong,” described Smith. “But if we need help in, say, the outfield – we’ll switch up.”

On Ridge Manor’s pitchers, “We’re not real fast, but they can throw strikes,” the coach said.

On opening up against fundamentally sound South Lake, “We have to help each other out. If a guy makes a mistake, another teammate has to pick them up.

“We don’t have guys who throw really hard, but hopefully we can keep teams off-balance,” said Smith. “Winning at this level isn’t everything. Playing the game hard and playing with heart means a lot more to me.”

2012 Spring Hill American AAA Majors (ages 11-12) All-Stars
3 Nick Vastano OF/P
5 Kobe Simon OF
8 Jason Kirkpatrick OF
10 Brandon Frangione SS/P/C
12 Ryan Lotito 2B/P
15 Brian Hlavac OF
24 Richie Hopper 3B/P
28 Kevin Tomas C/P/SS
34 Domenick Rado OF
35 Luke Howard OF
44 Philip Orlando* C/P
52 Jonathon Allion* 1B
Head Coach – Frank Frangione (3-2 lifetime)
Asst. Coach – Mike Rado
Asst. Coach – Brian Hlavac
* Denotes 2011 AAA Majors/Minors All-Star

By the Numbers: Spring Hill American AAA Majors District 6 Results (2001-11)
– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

2001 2 2 .500 Myron Meek
2002 4 3 .571 Rich Gibbemeyer
2003$ 6 1 .857 Tom Meier
2004 1 3 .250 Bill Valentine
2005 0 2 .000 John Walls
2006 1 2 .333 John Walls
2007$ 5 1 .833 Jim Keith
2008$$ 4 2 .667 Shawn Laferty
2009$ 6 1 .857 Vito Tambasco
2010 1 2 .333 Gary Myers
2011 1 2 .333 Al Blevens
TOTALS 31 21 .596 –10–
$ Denotes District 6 Champion
$$ Denotes State Champion

Spring Hill National AAA Majors (ages 11-12) All-Stars
1 Enrique Brown CF/2B
2 Johnny Moran* 2B/P/C
3 Trevor Adler* INF/OF
5 Chris Cesiro SS/P
8 Stevie Clark 1B/2B/P
9 Nick Collins OF/1B
10 Hailey Smith* OF/3B/P
12 Reagan Chapman P/1B
22 Tyler Adler* INF/OF/P
24 Dakota Blevens* 3B/P/C
44 Max Glenn* P/C/OF
46 Will DiCono* OF
Head Coach – Will Glenn (0-0)
Asst. Coach – Keith Moran
Asst. Coach – Anthony Cesiro
* Denotes 2011 AA Rookies/AAA Minors All-Star

By the Numbers: Spring Hill National AAA Majors District 6 Results (2001-11)
– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

2001 NO TEAM
2002 4 2 .667 Jim Nicolini
2003 5 3 .625 Jorg May
2004 6 2 .750 Matt Martin
2005 4 2 .667 Rob Owens
2006$ 3 0 1.000 Mike Sollazzo
2007 NO TEAM
2008 3 2 .600 Dan Gomez
2009 3 2 .600 Al Sorrentino
2010$$ 3 2 .600 Al Sorrentino
2011$/$$ 5 0 1.000 Shawn Laferty
TOTALS 36 15 .706 –8–
$ Denotes District 6 Champion
$$ Denotes Florida State Champion

By the Numbers: Ridge Manor AAA Majors District 6 Results (2001-11)
– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

2001 0 2 .000 John Quinn
2002 0 0 .000 NO TEAM
2003 0 2 .000 Eddie Maldonado
2004 0 2 .000 Troy Thompson
2005 0 2 .000 Jimmie Miller
2006 0 2 .000 Troy Thompson
2007 0 2 .000 Scott Ulery
2008 0 0 .000 DNP/Hosted states
2009 0 2 .000 Steve Carter
2010 0 2 .000 John McLeod
2011 0 2 .000 John McLeod
TOTALS 0 18 .000 –8–

Ridge Manor AAA Majors (ages 11-12) All-Stars
1 Kelden Pupello* C/P/SS
2 Ashton Richart OF
4 Connor Leonard* 1B/P
5 Justin Smith CF/2B/P
6 Aaron Norris 2B/CF
7 Dakota Laplant OF
8 Ryan Zupancic OF
9 Brent Oliver SS/P/C
10 J.T. Short P/1B/SS
11 Gabe Littlefield* 3B/C/P
12 Travis Parish OF
13 Charlie Whitten IV OF
Head Coach – Danny Smith (0-0)
Asst. Coach – Chip Oliver
Asst. Coach – Dennis Pupello
* Denotes 2011 AAA Majors/AAA Minors All-Star

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