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FHSI Preview: The Challenge

The 11th annual Florida League High School Invitational will begin on Monday, March 12 at Sanford Memorial Stadium. This year's edition will feature more than 50 schools from Florida, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas, and Virginia. Some of the best young players in professional baseball have played in the FHSI over the past decade, including Cleveland Indians SS Francisco Lindor, Chicago Cubs 2B Javier Baez, New York Yankees 1B Greg Bird, Chicago White Sox RHP Carson Fulmer and Colorado Rockies Top Prospect Brendan Rodgers. The first week of the 2018 fHSI, called "The Challenge", will feature eight teams in a pool-play format.

Christian Academy of Knoxville

The CAK Warriors will join the FHSI for the first time under the direction of Tennessee coaching legend Tommy Pharr, who has more than 785 career coaching victories. The Warriors are coming off a stellar 2017 campaign that saw them finish as D-II State Champions with a record of 39-5. Though they have to replace five starters from that team, Coach Pharr is confident that his group will compete. On the mound, juniors LHP Jacob Tate and RHP Hunter Loyd will anchor a young staff. Offensively, University of Tennessee commit Zane Keener will control the top of the lineup while catcher Jesse Osborn will run the show behind the plate.

Deltona Wolves

The Deltona Wolves return to the FHSI for the first time since 2015. Despite a rough 2017 season, head coach Matt Burgess thinks that they will compete for a district title. Their performance will depend heavily on contributions from returning starters Edgar Azucey, Ray Pereira and David Lopez. The senior trio will bat near the top of the lineup to jumpstart the Wolves’ offense. The pitching staff is very left-heavy, led by Lopez, Hunter Neller and sophomore Devin Hovsepian. Team defense is the strength of this year’s team.

Flagler Palm Coast Bulldogs

The Bulldogs have been a stalwart of the FHSI as they will play in their fifth consecutive tournament this year. Coach Jordan Butler is extremely high on this year’s ballclub, citing their positive “team-first” culture. His seniors set the tone on and off the field, led by catcher Emerson Cheney, OF Cameron Becker, SS Trevor Meaney, and 1B Carlos Nieves. Meaney and junior D’Emiliano Whiters are both solid with the glove, providing excellent defense up the middle. Jace Wilson, a Daytona State commit, may be the strongest overall player on the roster. Look for the Bulldogs to compete in the district in 2018.

Florida High Seminoles

Head Coach John Hollenbeck returns with the Florida High Seminoles for their 3rd consecutive appearance in the FHSI. The Seminoles are led by 2017- FHSI All-Tournament Team selections Brandon Mitchell (RHP/SS) and Dylan Beiro (1B). Offensively, Tanner Godwin, Malachi Burk, Trevor Hanselman, and Argene Lynn will look to produce runs. The pitching staff will rely on Jonathan Campbell, Brandon Mitchell, AJ Thorp, and Austin Fuller. With more than 450 wins under his belt, Coach Hollenbeck is always in a position to run a quality team on to the field every game.

North Florida Christian Eagles

Head Coach Mike Posey and his 671 career wins returns with the NFC Eagles for their 2nd FHSI. Despite their 3A classification, the Eagles are notorious for hanging with any team in the state. Posey’s squad is led by three talented upperclassmen. Senior Matthew Dickey was the MVP of the 2016 FHSI, and is committed to JUCO powerhouse Chipola. Junior Brandon Walker has scouts salivating both on the mound and at the plate. The FSU commit is ranked as a Top 15 national prospect on Perfect Game. Major Posey, a UCF signee, completes the trio of two-way threats. Another name to keep an eye on is JD Tease, who led the team with a .404 average and 30 RBI last season.

South Fork Bulldogs

South Fork will take part in their third FHSI tournament, and first since 2014. The Bulldogs are looking to improve on their 2017 season. Coach Tony Malizia has been pleased with his team’s offseason work, and expects positive results on the field. The pitching staff will be led by Jett Thomson, Ryan McCauley, and Patrick Wille. Defense will be anchored by junior SS Marcus Mastellone, junior 2nd baseman Tim Kudlinski, junior center fielder Andrew Mitchell and behind the plate will be sophomore Ryan Shuley. Offensively junior Sam Mickels and senior Jacob Travis will provide some pop in the line-up.

Tampa Prep Terrapins

After a one-year hiatus, Tampa Prep returns for their sixth FHSI. Playing in one of the most competitive districts in the state, they will look to rebound from a tough season last year. Coach AJ Hendrix believes that with a year of growth under their belts, his young pitching staff will improve vastly this year. Gilbert Marquis, Landon Schabes and Colby Welch will anchor the staff. Catcher Charlie Vari will lead the team from behind the plate, taking charge of the game. On offense, look for contributions from Ryan Savitt, Schabes, Vari, Marquis and sophomore Lucas Harmon.

University Titans

The Titans fell one game short of a state title last season, and look to rebuild in 2018 after having three players drafted by MLB clubs. Still, new Coach Jake Norman will inherit a talented ball club. University is led by senior middle infielders Jesus Ruiz and Jackson Roberts, both of whom are smooth with the glove and bat. Mike Sinopoli will provide the pop in the middle of the lineup. The pitching staff lacks experience, but has a lot of potential. Coach Norman thinks they will be the key to making another run to the state playoffs.

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