Merritt Island Baseball Advances to State Championship Game, Mustangs Set to Face Tampa Jefferson for 6A Title
By Alan Zlotorzynski, Senior Editor // May 31, 2018
Mustangs Seek first baseball title since 2000, third overall in school history
ABOVE VIDEO: Postgame press conference with Merritt island manager Greg Plecki and winning pitcher, Mason Denaburg. (Video by FHSAA)
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – The Merritt Island Mustangs advanced to the FHSAA Class 6A State Baseball Finals on Wednesday as they defeated the Barron Collier Cougars 8-2 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Florida.
Led by Florida Gator commit and likely top of the MLB Draft prospect Mason Denaburg, the Mustangs scored two runs in the second inning without collecting a hit, two more in the third, added one in the fourth and iced the contest with three runs in the seventh inning.
The Mustangs advance to face Jefferson High School (21-8) from Tampa, Florida on Thursday at 6 p.m. in Fort Myers.
After a shaky start, Denaburg settled down and was impressive. He tossed six innings, gave up five hits, two runs (both earned) while striking out 13 Cougar batters and walking just three.
While the reigning Space Coast Daily Breakfast of Champions Baseball Player of the Year has accomplished much on the diamond, he is still a high school student-athlete, and nerves were to be expected in a big game like the one on Wednesday.
After giving up a walk and two hits in the bottom of the first inning allowing the Cougars to score first, Denaburg relaxed and shut down the most important part of the Barron Collier lineup the rest of the afternoon.
In fact, Denaburg would allow just three hits the rest of the way and would hold the top four batters in the Cougars lineup to a collective 1-14 on the day striking them out six times.
The Mustangs only needed to record eight outs behind their ace and they did so without making a mistake. Barron Collier wasn’t nearly as good behind their starter, Nick Denove. The Cougars committed four costly errors on the day.
After taking an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, the Mustangs capitalized on the Cougars mistakes in the top of the second. With two outs, Devone hit Mustangs catcher Alex Nigh with a pitch and his defense followed up by committing two errors allowing two Merritt Island runners to score without the benefit of a hit.
Nerves not quite settled, Denaburg allowed runners to reach first and second with one out in the bottom of the second but the hard-throwing righty struck out the next two batters to end the Barron Collier threat.
Denaburg would again end a Cougars threat as Barron Collier had two runners on base with one out while trailing 5-2 in the sixth but the ‘potential’ future Gator struck out the next two batters again to end the inning.
The Mustangs added three more runs in the top of the seventh and senior Collin Taulbee came on to close out the Cougars to end the game.
Manager Greg Plecki’s squad managed eight hits on the day.
Senior RJ Diaz had a clutch day at the plate as he collected three hits and registered two RBI’s in four at-bats and he also scored a run. Sophomore Ian Farrow, who collected the Space Coast Daily / Friday Night Locker Room Player of the Game award back on May 16 in a 10-4 win over Rockledge in the Regional Semifinal, also had two RBI’s in the semifinal win.
Senior catcher Kyle Dentmon collected two hits including a double and he scored a run.
The team standing in the way of a third state championship for Merritt Island is Jefferson high school from Tampa. The Dragons finished 21-8 this season under manager Juan Fontela and are seeking their first-ever state baseball title in 78 years of program play.
In fact, the last time Jefferson High made the state baseball tournament was in 1985 when future Major Leaguers Tino Martinez and Luis Gonzalez were the star players for the Dragons.
— FHSAA (@FHSAA) May 30, 2018
ABOVE VIDEO: Final out for the Mustangs in their 8-2 win in the state semifinal over Barron Collier on Wednesday (Video by FHSAA)
KNOW THE OPPONENT
Jefferson defeated the Clay Blue Devils 7-2 in the other state semifinal to reach the title game. As a team, the Dragons are batting .351 this season.
While the Mustangs have Denaburg heading to Florida (possibly), the Dragons also have a player heading to a prominent D1 perennial baseball power in the state of Florida, 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior outfielder Robby Martin.
With a 90 plus mph fastball, Martin is also the teams closer. Committed to play at Florida State, Martin is hitting .446 with 21 RBIs, six doubles, and three home runs in 2018.
Other players to keep an eye on are seniors A.J. Mathis (batting .462) and Charlie Welch (batting .455). Welch leads the team with 25 RBIs.
The Dragons will likely throw junior Marc DeGusipe, who is 5-2 this season with 1.77 ERA.
On the mound for the Mustangs will likely be senior Chase Victor. The lefty was 6-1 with a 3.05 ERA, allowing just 55 hits in 50.1 innings pitched while striking out 54 and walking just 22.
Victor allowed just 11-extra-base hits on the season (2 HR’s, 9 2B’s) as opposing teams batted just .262 against him.
The Mustangs lineup likely has Mason Denaburg leading off with Victor batting second and Kyle Dentmon batting third. The three seniors are batting a combined .416 this season with 11 home runs and 78 RBI’s.
The next three in the order should be RJ Diaz, Ian Farrow and Alex Nigh who are batting .373, .330 and .292 respectively. Farrow, only a sophomore, is second on the Mustangs with 32 runs batted in this season. Diaz leads the team with 16 stolen bases.
Senior Joseph Johnson, freshman Chase LeBlanc, and senior Nick Avdellas should round out manager Greg Plecki’s batting order. All three are batting a tad over .300 this season and have combined to drive in 52 runs this season.
BREVARD BASEBALL TITLES
ABOVE VIDEO: Considered one of the finest overall performances by any two teams playing in the 2013 FHSAA state tournament. Melbourne Central Catholic came up on the winning end of a 1-0 decision over Florida Christian in Class 3A state semifinal at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers.
This is the third trip to the state championship game for the Mustangs, who last made the finals in 2000 under legendary manager and Space Coast Sports Hall of Famer, Chuck Goldfarb.
The Mustangs captured the 2000 Class 5A title to win back-to-back championships defeating Sarasota 6-5 at Legends Field in Tampa. The year before Merritt Island knocked off Venice, 6-4, to capture the schools first ever baseball state title.
Through the years, five Brevard County teams have captured seven state baseball titles.
Merritt Island (1999 & 2000) and Florida Prep (1993 & 1998) have won two each, while Satellite (1986), Rockledge (2004) and Melbourne Central Catholic (2013) have one.
The first team to win a title was Satelite in 1986 and the last to do it was the Hustlers, who captured the crown in 2013 under manager Tom Dooley in a memorable lightning and rain-delayed affair.
Click here to watch the game on FHSAA High School Sports Network. There is a fee of $9.95 to watch.
Stay tuned to Space Coast Daily for free updates on the game and a full report once the contest ends on Space Coast Daily TV with Alan Zlotorzynski.
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