Confident Winter Springs baseball excited for FHSAA state tournament trip

·4 min read

Playoff baseball road trips to Gainesville, Tallahassee and the Panhandle the past two weeks have paved the way for Winter Springs’ most rewarding journey yet.

The Bears leave Monday morning for Fort Myers to compete in the Florida High School Athletic Association state tournament for the first time.

“It feels like I’m a little part of history that’s set in stone and is never going to be forgotten,” Winter Springs third baseman Marco Gonzalez said.

Winter Springs (19-9-1) plays Tampa Sickles (28-2) in a Class 6A semifinal on Tuesday at 1 p.m. Doral Academy (24-6) faces Viera (23-5) in the other semifinal at 10 a.m. Winners meet Wednesday at 2 p.m.

FHSAA state tournament games take place at Hammond Stadium. Admission is $9 in advance and $12 day of game via the GoFan app. Parking is $10. Games will stream live online for a fee at

Gonzalez has been clutch this postseason for the Bears. He drove in the tying run with two outs to force extra innings in the district championship game vs. Hagerty. He then plated the go-ahead score on a 2-out line drive at Buchholz during the program’s first regional final appearance.

“We’ve upset some really good teams and we’ve proven we deserve to be here,” Gonzalez said. “We’re a team that competes and fights and we’re not ever going to give up.”

The Bears, who have made an impressive run as the 8th and final seed in 6A Region 1, are a far cry from where they were early in the season after starting 5-5 and going on to lose four of five games in mid-April.

The offensive production up and down the lineup has played a huge role in the turnaround. Winter Springs enters the state tournament batting .336 as a team with 34 doubles and 15 home runs.

Sickles enters the state semis with a 1.48 team ERA.

“We’re hitting the ball like we’re capable of doing, and that’s from No. 1 in the lineup all the way down to No. 9,” said Winter Springs coach Mike Bradley, who led Dr. Phillips to the state tournament in his final season there in 2018.

Junior leadoff hitter Sam Downey, who hit a first-pitch homer in the regional final vs. Buchholz, is followed in the top of the order by Gonzalez and senior infielder Logan Hughes, who has 35 RBIs, 7 home runs and 6 doubles.

“We got started off on a bad foot, but the kids have figured it out and learned to play together, and now we’re playing to our potential,” Bradley said. “There’s a good feeling in the dugout. They celebrate each other’s successes and that’s been super contagious.”

The excitement and confidence bubbling over in recent weeks has reached all corners of the lineup.

Winter Springs has taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to the pitching rotation while using six arms via limited pitch-counts in its three regional games.

Junior Andrew Lepine, who returned from injury three weeks ago, teamed with sophomore Max Murray and junior Brady Schwartzberg to allow only five hits during a 10-4 quarterfinal win at nationally-ranked No. 1 seed Pace.

In the semifinals at Leon, senior Mark Loubier, junior Michael Vice and sophomore Aiden Smarrito combined for 7 strikeouts and 1 walk allowed in a 14-3 win.

Senior catcher Jacob McKenzie has played a big part in the defense’s success while calling the pitches in every game. His throwing ability from behind the plate has helped hold opposing baserunners in check.

“I’ve been around these guys a lot and I’m confident in my calls. They trust in me, and it works out every time,” said McKenzie, who hit 2 home runs in regionals.

“A lot of us have been playing together since we were young,” McKenzie said. “We had little bumps in the road in the regular season, but once playoffs hit we all bonded really well together. We’ve just trusted in the plan and stayed true to it.”

This article originally appeared on Email J.C. Carnahan at