© St. Petersburg Times, published June 30, 2002
The difficult journey to reach the Little League World Series began this weekend as the District 5 All-Star tournament got under way, and all paths to glory go through Seminole.
In major baseball, the defending champions look completely different than they did a year ago with a new coach and one returning player. But according to coach Bob Oxner, that is no excuse for not setting high goals.
"We always go in it trying to win," he said.
Newcomers to the Seminole team include a mixture of hard throwers and heavy hitters.
Jay Taylor will likely carry the pitching load. Oxner also expects Steve DiBella to see significant playing time either as a starter or closer. DiBella tossed a no-hitter against Pinellas Park National in the Tournament of Champions.
Offensively, Seminole will be relying on Bryant Gibson's .570 batting average and Matt Jones to generate runs.
Northeast, with its strong pitching, is expected to challenge, as will Pinellas Park National and Gulf Beaches.
In junior baseball, the defending champions from Seminole will have to fend off heavy competition from Northeast, Pinellas Park National and Southwest in order to retain its title.
Northeast defeated Seminole 5-4 in eight innings earlier this season to win the Tournament of Champions.
"I respect that team and expect to have another good game with them," Seminole coach John Belvedere said.
Belvedere will have seven members of his TOC team on the All-Stars roster.
"The guys who were on my TOC were not familiar with winning," Oxner said. "Yeah, they were young, and yeah, they were small, but they worked hard."
Jennings George and Robbu Phelps will anchor the Seminole pitching staff while Tyson Brock and Mike Bronk will be looked upon offensively.
In senior baseball, Tournament of Champions winner Pinellas Park National will be the favorite to win when play begins Wednesday. Cross Bayou, Meadowlawn/Northeast, Northwest and Azalea will be in contention.
In major softball, Seminole will be looking to capture its fifth consecutive District 5 title. Catcher Brittney Warren, an all-star for the fourth year in a row, will team up with Ashley Volentine to form Seminole's battery. Cristina Barshel and Carly Merson both batted better than .525 this past season. Kristi Belvedere will anchor the infield at shortstop.
Other teams expected to contend are Cross Bayou and Northeast.
In junior softball, the defending champions from Pinellas Park National are expected to be the front-runners when tournament play begins Monday. Pinellas Park National is coming off a successful Tournament of Champions where it not only claimed another District 5 title, but also outscored its opponents 52-5.
Other teams that will contend are Seminole, Cross Bayou, Gulfport and Northeast/Southwest.