2024 Season Preview: Bell Creek, Brandon, SLAM, Sumner, Tampa Prep

With preseason games going on this week, we thought we would preview our Hillsborough County squads leading into the 2024 regular season. We’ll release previews on five teams a day leading up to our BIG 813Preps Top 15 Preseason Rankings on Sunday.

[Teams were selected in order of coaches’ response to our survey; then listed in alphabetic order]

Bell Creek

Coach: Frank Burke (11th season)
Last Year’s Record: 18-8 (Region quarterfinalist)
Outlook: The Panthers reached the region playoffs for the first time in program history last year, but lose seven players from that squad. This will be a young Bell Creek team, but the Panthers have a run-producing machine in senior returner Noah Berning, who had 10 extra-base hits, including four dingers last year. Last year’s pitching staff losses its top three inning eaters, but senior Craig Jacobson appeared in six games last season.

Players to Watch: Noah Berning, Sr, 3B/P/1B (.304, 35 RBI, 16 runs; Bishop State CC, Ala. signee); Craig Jacobson, Sr, RHP (23K’s in 18+ip); Andrew Golden, Jr, IF (22 runs, 12 RBI)

Our Take: BCA has five-straight winning seasons, and a sixth in double-digit wins prior to this season, and we expect that trend to continue this season. The young Panthers have some solid leadership at the top and we are excited to see how things shake out in Class 3A-5 come district time. Regular Season Prediction: 14-6


Coach: Mike Armstrong (Second season)
Last Year’s Record: 4-20
Outlook: As far as experienced returners, the Eagles have some spots to fill from a season ago. In his second season leading Brandon, Coach Armstrong has set a goal of aiming for a .500 season and making a deep run in the district tournament. The Eagles face six teams in its first 10 games that are also on the rebuilding slope, so cashing in on those wins would go a long way in setting up that targeted finish.

Brandon junior MIF Charles Rodriguez

Players to Watch: Charles Rodriguez, Jr, SS/2B/P (five RBI, five runs); David Ruiz, Soph, C/P; Aidan Junttila, Soph, 1B/P.

Our Take: This current group of Eagles is a bit of a mystery for us, as we only saw Brandon twice last season and didn’t see many of the returners play. We feel like a good goal would be to aim at outdoing last year’s win total, while getting its freshmen and sophomores regular playing experience. Regular Season Prediction: 6-17


Coach: Nick Russo (Third season)
Last Year’s Record: 16-9
Outlook: SLAM is not messing around. After an impressive 16-9 run in its first FHSAA Class 2A season, the Spartans have stacked the schedule with some heavy-hitters – including two defending state champions and a 5A runner-up. The returning offense is pretty darn strong, and still primarily juniors and sophomores. The addition of JJ Shipherd (transfer from Hillsborough) to the rotation along with Isaiah Morales and Jayden Jardine (who pitched in 10 and nine games respectively last season) makes SLAM a very solid squad.

SLAM junior SS Andrew Bunner

Players to Watch: Andrew Bunner, Jr, UT (.462, 26 RBI, 26 runs, seven doubles, four homers); Chris Pope, Jr, OF (.323 14 runs, 10 RBI); JJ Shipherd, Sr, RHP (3.71 ERA, 55 K’s in 56 1/3 innings at Hillsborough HS).

Our Take: Not gonna lie, we do love us some confidence – and looking at the MaxPreps schedule, we can’t help but notice May 15 – TBA, which is the projected state semifinals in Ft. Myers. We’re buying in. Coach Russo said: “I think every teams goal should be to try to play in the championship game at the end of the season. That’s why we’ll have it on our schedule.” A district tournament with Seffner Christian, Carrollwood Day and SLAM battling for a title = sign us up. Regular Season Prediction: 17-6


Coach: Kennedy Duran (Fourth season)
Last Year’s Record: 11-13

Sumner HC Kennedy Duran

Outlook: The Stingrays won a district title in 2022, before making a jump up to the FHSAA’s highest classification in 2023 and went 1-5 against Class 7A-7 opponents. A good mix of then-seniors and sophomores led the way offensively, so Sumner has experience returning at the plate; while returning most of its pitching from a season ago. A key addition of Riverview transfer senior OF/P Anthony Jacquez (.317, 13 RBI; 2-2, 28 K’s in 32ip) will give the team a front of the rotation starter and a nice bat to add to the lineup.

Players to Watch: Ethan DeJesus, Soph, RHP (5-3, 43K’s in 33ip); Sebastian Peralta, Jr, IF (.284, 14 RBI, 14 runs); Winston Pennant, Soph, OF/P (predicted late-inning pitcher).

Our Take: Sumner in just its fourth season has made great leaps in just four seasons, improving its win total each year. With Coach Duran heading into his 20th season (16 years at Lennard), we think the Stingrays will continue moving in the right direction. The Stingrays are hosting the Saladino Silver Bracket and we feel should be in it for the title. Regular Season Prediction:14-8

Tampa Prep

Coach: AJ Hendrix (24th season)
Last Year’s Record: 8-19
Outlook: The Terrapins took some lumps last season, but turned games against the two 3A-5 teams that advanced to the region tourney (Berkeley Prep, Tampa Catholic) into battles. Top hitters Will Jennewein (Sewanee signee) and Ignacio Gonzalez (Miami of Ohio signee) return to lead the Tampa Prep offense, while adding AATL transfer Liam Akins (.380, 23 RBI, 14 runs). The Terps are going to be tested right out of the gate with district tilts against Berkeley Prep and Tampa Catholic sandwiched around defending state champions, Lakeland Christian, in the first eight days of the season.

Tampa Prep senior CF Will Jennewein

Players to Watch: Will Jennewein, Sr, CF (.337, 15 RBI, 17 runs, 10 doubles); Ignacio Gonzalez, Sr, SS (.370, 21 runs, 15 RBI, three homers); Emilio Miranda, Sr, P/1B (projected No. 1 starter)

Our Take: The Terrapins always put on a show when we get to see them, so we are excited to see this offense get going. Tampa Prep averaged 4.6 runs-per-game last season, and that needs to continue in ’24, as the pitching staff lost its top three innings producers from the mound to graduation. The Terrapins also have reigning state champs Calvary Christian on its stacked schedule, so W-L record may not show the true mettle of this team come the postseason. Regular Season Prediction: 14-7 (we did not include the four TBA games in spring break in our prediction)