Boys District tournament open across the area tonight as the second season begins. Here’s a look at the districts that include Hillsborough County squads.
Teams: Alonso, Bloomingdale, Brandon, Plant, Wharton.
Outlook: Without a truly outstanding team, 6A-8 is one of the more open districts. Plant earned the No.1 seed thanks in part to their outstanding home record, but both Wharton and Bloomingdale will be dangerous, with the Wildcats home field advantage potentially proving crucial. Wharton went 3-1 at home in district play, the only loss a surprise 3-2 defeat to No.5 seed Brandon.
Teams: Armwood, Durant, East Bay, Newsome, Plant City, Riverview, Tampa Bay Tech.
Outlook: No.1 seed Plant City should be favored to win this district, but the Raiders could get a serious test from East Bay should the Indians get past Riverview in the quarterfinals. East Bay reached the final of the Wharton Invitational last week, and could be primed to spring an upset. Newsome should match up with Durant in the other semifinals, the Wolves looking to bounce back from their 3-0 loss to Sickles in the Wharton Invitational.
Teams: Chamberlain, Freedom, Gaither, Hillsborough, King, Leto, Sickles.
Outlook: Last season, Sickles was primed for a deep run into the playoffs, only to see their hopes get derailed in the district semifinals. Don’t expect a similar letdown from the Gryphons this season, who won the Wharton Invitational, defeating prospective semifinals opponent King 2-0 in the process. Gaither appears to be the favorite to meet the Gryphons in the final as the Cowboys have won two straight impressively since falling to Sickles on Jan.8.
At Strawberry Crest
Teams: Blake, Jefferson, Jesuit, Lennard, Middleton, Robinson, Spoto, Steinbrenner, Strawberry Crest.
Outlook: Steinbrenner and Jesuit should ease into the final here, with only Robinson taking a point from either side with their 2-2 draw against Jesuit at the beginning of the season. Jesuit appears to be the side in form after its 4-2 victory against Berkeley Prep on Saturday, while Steinbrenner came down to earth hard in a 4-0 loss against Gaither after earning the No.1 seed with a 2-1 win against the Tigers in their final district game.
At St. Petersburg Catholic
Teams: Berkeley Prep, Clearwater Central Catholic, St. Petersburg Catholic, Tampa Catholic.
Outlook: The absence of Berkeley’s T.J. Roehn for at least the district tournament, if not the region quarterfinals and semifinals, could open the door for Tampa Catholic to make a run at the title. Berkeley, even without Roehn, shouldn’t have any issue advancing past St. Petersburg Catholic in the semifinals, though, and should have starting goalkeeper Leland Newhaller back after missing time with a bruised hip. Mark Biddinger is a long-shot to return this week though, his return being more likely should the Bucs make the region tournament.
At Lakeland Christian
Teams: Winter Haven All Saints’, Leesburg First Academy, Lakeland Christian, Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic, Seffner Christian, Lakeland Victory Christian.
Outlook: Seffner Christian has played well to close out the season, their only loss in their last six games coming against coming to Santa Fe Catholic, but that is the side the Crusaders will need to beat should it advance against First Academy in the quarterfinals to reach the region tournament.
At Bishop McLaughin
Teams: Academy at the Lakes, Bishop McLaughlin, Calvary Christian, Carrollwood Day, Hernando Christian, Indian Rocks Christian, Tampa Prep.
Outlook: Tampa Prep has, of late, looked like a side slightly lacking in confidence. The opportunity for the Terrapins to re-find their scoring touch should help that this week, setting them up for another potential run at the final four. Indian Rocks Christian was the only district opposition able to play the Terrapins close this season in a 3-1 Tampa Prep win, and should be the favorite to advance to the final and into the region quarterfinals.
At Shorecrest Prep
Teams: Admiral Farragut, Bradenton Christian, Cambridge, Keswick Christian, Northside Christian, Out of Door Academy, Shorecrest Prep, Bradenton St. Stephen’s.
Outlook: No.6 seed Cambridge will need to pull a pair of upsets to earn a place in the final as they first face No.3 seed and host Shorecrest, which has already beaten the Lancers twice this season, and should they advance there No.2 seed Out of Door, which beat the Lancers 2-0 earlier in the season.
For a Pinellas County perspective on the upcoming week, we turn to Bryan Burns of the St. Petersburg Times, who takes a look at Palm Harbor, Countryside and Indian Rocks Christian here.
Meanwhile, in Pasco County, The Times’ Izzy Gould looks at the prospects of Land O’ Lakes, Sunlake, WireGrass Ranch and Mitchell here.
Last season, this week was full of surprises, with a number of favored teams falling early. Who's your pick to make a surprise run into the region playoffs? And which of the top seeds is it going to be at the expense of?