Merrell departs Freedom for Wesley Chapel;
Moore named Pats new HC

Tripp Merrell (left) has stepped down as the head baseball coach at Freedom to accept the same position at Wesley Chapel. The school has selected assistant coach Dane Moore (right), a 2010 Patriots alum as Merrell’s replacement. 

By Jarrett Guthrie

NEW TAMPA – Tripp Merrell said he has stepped down as head coach at Freedom to accept the baseball coaching position at Wesley Chapel, and his assistant coach and FHS alum Dane Moore has been promoted to head coach of the Patriots, he confirmed on Friday.

Moore takes over the head job at his alma mater (class of 2010) after serving as an assistant at the school for the previous three seasons.

“Freedom baseball has been a part of my life in some way shape or form since 2006,” Moore messaged 813Preps on Friday. “There’s no place I’d rather start my head coaching career than here and I’m grateful for the opportunity to do that.”

Moore mentioned that the goal was something he often discussed with his grandfather, Norm Hutchinson, who was a longtime Saladino Tournament volunteer before his death in January of 2021.

“(I) talked a lot with Norm about possibly taking a head coaching job one day during my days as an assistant, (I) know how proud my decision would have made him,” Moore said. “I look forward to being back out there with our guys in August.”

Merrell said the selection of Moore as his replacement is the perfect fit as the program looks to build on the consistency it had under Merrell, who is the second-longest tenured baseball coach at the school since its opening in 2001. Prior to Merrell’s hiring the program had seven coaches in the previous 16 seasons.

“Dane is the perfect guy for the job because he was part of the building we did hear, so it should be a smooth transition for the players,” Merrell said. “And to be able to coach as the head coach at your alma mater, I think that is really cool.”

Merrell, a graduate of Sickles who played collegiately at Webber International, lives in Wesley Chapel and said that being closer to his home and family played a big factor in the decision to leave the Patriots.

“I wasn’t thinking about leaving Freedom at all,” he said. “When I heard it was open and near where I live, I had some long talks with my wife and family and it just works for my son to be able to come out for games before bedtime … so, it was an opportunity build for our family.”

This spring, Freedom set a school record mark in wins going 17-9, finishing as the 5A-District 6 runner-up, and reaching the (Class 5A) region tournament for just the third time in program history (2012, 2017).  The Patriots season ended in a 12-2 region quarterfinal loss against River Ridge. In his four seasons leading the Patriots, Merrell posted a 36-43 record.

“At Freedom I truly feel like we built a winning culture year-after-year,” Merrell said. “The to see that hard work paying off as the guys bough in more and more, and that was what I’m most of in my time there.”

Merrell replaces Brett Baudendistel (who stepped down at the end of the 2022 school year as coach and athletic director) at Wesley Chapel after one season. The Wildcats were 12-10 this spring.