Hillsborough County’s premier high school baseball tournament is set to come back after COVID-19 canceled it in 2020.
It was around this time last year that much of the United States began to take precautionary actions for the COVID-19 pandemic, shutting much of the sports world down. Hillsborough County Public Schools announced a temporary suspension of all activities — which ended up being much longer than the initial estimate of two weeks — just one day before the 40th annual Saladino Tournament was supposed to start.
Luckily for area baseball fans, the wait for the legendary tournament’s return is almost over.
The 2021 Tony and Bertha Saladino Baseball Tournament has been scheduled, set up and adjusted to comply with social distancing and other COVID-19 safety guidelines to keep everyone involved safe while they enjoy some of the best baseball action you’ll see anywhere in the state of Florida.
The big story for last year’s tournament was the debut of an entirely new format with two divisions. The move came after the FHSAA rolled out a new rankings system, controlled by MaxPreps.com, using strength of schedule to determine which teams make the cut for the postseason as opposed to the previous district champ/runner-up playoff berth guarantee. The Gold division represented the highest level of competition and the rest of the teams were assigned to the Silver division. Durant, Plant City and Strawberry Crest were all in the Gold division and each team had a real chance to compete for the tournament championship.
This will be the real-life debut of the 2020 tournament’s format. That goes beyond just keeping the idea of the two divisions: the initial seeding and game schedule planned for 2020 also carried over to 2021, so Plant City is still the top-seeded team in the tournament with Durant (4) and Strawberry Crest (8) behind them in the Gold division.
But there is one thing about the 2021 tournament that did get an update. The tournament games were previously hosted between four Tampa Bay-area high schools with Brandon hosting the grand finale. Greater Plant City-area fans caught a lucky break this time around as the action in both divisions will be split between six sites, featuring all three area schools: Brandon, Bloomingdale, Jesuit, Durant, Plant City and Crest. Brandon will once again play host to this year’s championship action on March 17.
The Cougars (5-2) have gotten great results on the mound from seniors Sean Hermann and Ronnie Galletti, and the offense has demonstrated the ability to get a spark at the right times. The Chargers’ (7-1) offense has been extremely productive in 2021, outscoring opponents 53-10 thanks in large part to a breakout performance from sophomore Arjun Nimmala — who is batting .435 with a whopping 14 RBI and seven doubles to his name. The Raiders (6-3) have more losses this season than six of the other top 10-seeded teams below them, but last week they rebounded from an 13-6 loss at Leto and an 11-0 loss to Crest by handing Bloomingdale (7-1) its only loss by a score of 5-1.
The first round of the tournament will begin Saturday with games at all six sites. All three local teams will start with 4 p.m. games at their own home fields. Plant City will host Gaither (16), Crest will host Newsome (9) and Durant will host Steinbrenner (13).
Visit tonysaladinobaseballtournament.com for more information about the tournament and for GameChanger game links. Real-time updates and coverage throughout the tourney will be provided by 813Preps.com, the tournament’s official media partner.