Fall sports programs gearing up for postseason

Postseason time is here for fall sports programs throughout Hillsborough County and teams are looking to stay on their feet, including Gaither High football. The Cowboys and quarterback Brooks Bentley remain in contention for the District 7A-9 title.

The end is near for fall semester. Playoffs cometh.  

By the time this article hits in print Oct. 27, volleyball region quarterfinal matches will be getting underway, golfers will be swinging their way through district tournaments and football teams will be gearing up for Week 10 battles. Cross country runners are also racing toward district titles and swimmers and divers are competing in regional meets.  

Below is a glimpse at what’s going on with a few sports and what to look for moving forward as contenders start to make runs at greatness.

VOLLEYBALL  

In the northwestern reaches of Hillsborough, all eyes will be on Steinbrenner and Berkeley Prep.  

Steinbrenner posted a 22-3 regular-season record and was ranked as one of the top Class 7A teams in the state all year. Performances like that typically make district championships inevitable, except when opponents like Plant High reside within the same league. The Warriors’ lone, non-tournament loss of the season came Oct. 12 against Plant, 3-1, and the two highly rated programs squared off in the District 7A-7 title match last Thursday night at Sickles High. (Get the full match recap and photos at www.TampaBeacon.com.) The result came prior to press time, but both were already qualified for the postseason based on FHSAA RPI rankings. Plant entered districts as the top-ranked Class 7A team and Steinbrenner was third. Class 7A quarterfinal matches take place Oct. 27, followed by second-round region semis on Nov. 3.  

Berkeley Prep entered postseason play ranked No. 1 in Class 3A and No. 2 overall in the state. The 16-time state champion Buccaneers have their sights set on adding to that total and closing the gap on Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons, the all-time state leader with 20 titles. Entering this week’s regional tournament as District 3A-5 champs required beating rival Tampa Prep last Thursday. Class 3A quarterfinals were held Oct. 26 and region semis will be played Nov. 2. According to the FHSAA RPI rankings, Berkeley Prep’s Region 2 is the toughest in the classification, containing six of Class 3A’s top 10 teams. Region 2 includes a Clearwater Calvary Christian squad that played the Buccaneers tough during a pair of regular-season tournament games.

GOLF  

The Steinbrenner boys golf team, last year’s Class 3A District 9 champion, played for a third straight title this week. Dubbed “Swingbrenner,” the Warriors finished their regular season 13-1, with the lone defeat coming Oct. 12 against Tampa Prep. That loss put an end to Steinbrenner’s 25-match regular season win streak. Making it three consecutive league titles will be no easy task against this year’s 11-program District 3A-6 field that includes perennial contender Plant High.

FOOTBALL  

After last Friday’s slate of contests, two weeks of football remain before the playoffs and there are quite a few programs to keep an eye on.  

Berkeley Prep (3A) and Jesuit (6A) entered last week’s games 7-0 and among the top-ranked teams in the state in their respective classifications. Berkeley Prep traveled to New Orleans to play a nationally televised ESPNU game against Newman High and quarterback Arch Manning, nephew of Peyton and Eli and the country’s top-rated junior recruit.  

Carrollwood Day School is another local contender, and the Patriots were favored to improve to 6-2 on the year last week against Cambridge Christian. As of the Oct. 20 RPI standings, CDS ranked 10th overall in Class 3A and fourth in Region 3, putting the Patriots in a solid position to qualify.  

On the public-school front, Gaither’s 4-4 record entering last week’s projected win against Leto doesn’t appear impressive until you dive into the Cowboys’ schedule. All four losses came against playoff contenders in Armwood, Tampa Bay Tech, Mitchell and Steinbrenner, and two were by just three points. A road win this Friday night at Hillsborough would provide a big RPI boost, considering the Cowboys will likely be tied atop the District 7A-9 standings with Largo and Mitchell. As of the Oct. 20 RPI standings, it’s Mitchell, Gaither, and Largo, in that order. The difference between first and third, however, was just 0.036 percentage points.  

Steinbrenner got off to a rough start to the season, but similar to Gaither, the Warriors faced a brutal schedule. Four of Steinbrenner’s first five games came against Hillsborough, Tampa Bay Tech, Newsome and Armwood. The Warriors bounced back impressively and entered last week’s game against Chamberlain on a three-game winning streak that included victories over Gaither and East Lake. The latter sealed up the Warriors’ District 8A-11 championship and a guaranteed home date in the first round of the postseason.