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Pirates cling to shred of title hope

By CAREY FREEMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 22, 2002

The Gulf Coast Athletic Conference championship race will be settled this week, and all three county schools will play large roles in determining the outcome.

The action gets started tonight when Citrus takes on Springstead, then resumes Wednesday when Crystal River plays host to Central.

The Bears and Eagles have tied twice this season and sit atop the GCAC standings at 4-0-2. They will finish in a tie if both sweep their games against Citrus County opposition.

Crystal River, which lost to both while suffering through a string of injuries, has an outside shot at defending its title.

The Pirates (12-2-2, 4-2-2 in GCAC) must defeat Central tonight and Springstead on Friday. At the same time, the Pirates need upsets from Citrus, which travels to Springstead for its GCAC finale tonight, and Lecanto, which is at Central on Friday.

If that happens -- and it's a big if given that the Eagles and Bears have handled Citrus and Lecanto in previous meetings -- then Central, Crystal River and Springstead would share the crown.

"That was one of our goals that we set from the beginning of the year," Pirates coach Bobby Verlato said. "I'm not really going to address it with the team. We want those two teams bad. They got us when we were down. Our goal is to coach them to win and if (a championship) happens, great."

Crystal River has added motivation. It was without some of it's best players in December losses to the Bears and Eagles and is ready to prove this is a different squad than the one that limped into the holidays.

"I like our chances with our defenders back and having (Josh Caldwell and Kyle Nayfield) in the middle," Verlato said. "Having (sweeper) Kyle Griffin back should really help us too, and he'll be able to mark (Central midfielder Sean) O'Sullivan. Before, he was free to roam, but with Kyle back there, he won't have that opportunity."

Kyle Nayfield, injured in the first half of a 3-1 loss to the Bears and whose absence allowed Central to mark out area scoring leader Caldwell (25 goals, 15 assists), should be another factor.

"With (Central's) speed, we're not going to be able to hold the ball," Verlato said. "We need to play a controlled game, and we need to get rid of the ball quickly. But with (Nayfield) back, everyone is so confident, and it will take pressure off Josh. Last time, they had three or four guys on him. Now, they can't just key on one guy. Plus, with (Griffin) back there, it allows Nayfield to play more of an offensive role."

EVERYBODY SCORES: At least it seemed that way in Crystal River's 12-0 shellacking of Ocala West Port on Friday.

Caldwell, Nayfield, Mike Edmonds, Drew Austin and John Westerscored twice in the game that was called at halftime on the mercy rule. Caldwell, Nayfield and Morgan Rise (one goal) also had two assists apiece.

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