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Citrus is 'solid' despite its youth

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2002

INVERNESS -- His team is young and lacks name recognition.

Of Citrus' 16 players, 11 are juniors. Only half the roster has varsity experience. Among those who graduated were all-area players Sam McLain (pitcher/outfielder) and Flint Whitelaw (pitcher).

So, why is coach Mike Taylor so excited?

"We're going to be a solid team," Taylor said. "There's not a lot of superstars, but we're going to be solid.

"I really think our team chemistry is going to be a plus for us. Most of the kids come out of the same mold. They're all pretty consistent, and they all work hard. I don't see any problems with this group."

Not only that, but Taylor thinks the Hurricanes can compete with Crystal River and Dunnellon for the Class 3A, District 6 title.

But while Crystal River's roster is stacked with the who's who in Citrus County, Citrus' has several names that will cause many to utter, "Who's that?"

The top returning players are junior pitcher/outfielder Luke Czerwinski and senior shortstop Alex Posta. Czerwinski had a 3.21 ERA in 2001. Posta was an all-area pick after hitting .367 and scoring a county-best 38 runs.

Czerwinski, junior Darrell Brooks and senior Justin Rogers should be the Hurricanes' top pitching threats. Brooks, a junior varsity standout last season, has shown as much promise as any Hurricane.

"We've got three guys that are all pretty close," Taylor said."And D.J. Flores is another good one. He'll probably work out of the bullpen for us."

The infield should be strong.

Posta is a veteran, Rogers is solid at first base, and junior Matt Smith and senior Rusty Wilson give Citrus two capable second baseman.

Flores and Ross Keesling, juniors, will split time between catcher and third base. Junior Mike Wilburn, whom Taylor expects to be among the Hurricanes' top hitters, also will see time at third. "The difference this year is that we'll get to more balls and we'll be better positioned to make more plays," Taylor said.

If Citrus has a concern it is in the outfield, but Taylor is confident that unit will be fine in time.

After winning district titles in 1998 and 1999, and finishing second in 2000, Citrus was beaten by Dunnellon in last season's semifinals. The 2001 Hurricanes finished 14-13, but because of injuries and mental mistakes lost several close games and fell short of expectations.

"We're a more consistent group," Taylor said. "We're much smarter and more solid defensively. We're not going to make the mental mistakes. That's where we'll pick it up this year.

"The overall level of play of the kids is better. Their skills are better, fundamentals are better and their work ethic is better."

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