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Spongers, Falcons have high hopes for tourneys

By JOHN SCHWARB, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2002

With such a young roster, no one would have blamed Tarpon Springs for treating this season as a dress rehearsal for 2003.

With such a young roster, no one would have blamed Tarpon Springs for treating this season as a dress rehearsal for 2003.

But a funny thing happened on the way to rebuilding: the Spongers won a couple games. Then a couple more. They even beat the big rival across the pond.

Now, the upcoming district tournament does not signal an end to the season as it has in the past.

At Tarpon, they're talking postseason. Likewise at Dunedin, where the Falcons won seven out of 10 games in an unfamiliar district.

In the county, the usual suspects are expected to breeze into district title games and live to see the regional tournament: Countryside, Palm Harbor U., Northeast, Seminole and St. Petersburg Catholic. Most of the others have hope, but not much sizzle to back it up.

Tarpon and Dunedin might be hovering around .500 in terms of overall record, but both earned No. 3 seeds for their district tournaments. Three, as in the charm.

A No. 3 made it to a Friday district final last year, when sub-.500 Gibbs beat No. 2 Dixie Hollins to earn a playoff spot. So there's history, but more important for this year's threes, there's confidence.

"Yeah, I honestly think we should get to the final game," Tarpon coach Craig Drake said. "I knew we had the team, I wouldn't know if they came together.

"They came together."

The Spongers' 10-9 mark is mediocre when put up against the north county powers, but it's the best mark ever at Tarpon. It's certainly a far cry from last year's 5-14 record.

In the difficult Class 4A, District 8, Tarpon faced all Pasco County schools, including strong clubs such as River Ridge, Land O'Lakes and Ridgewood. The Spongers won two of six games against that trio, no small feat, and swept six more against Gulf, Hudson and Mitchell.

And oh yeah, Tarpon also beat East Lake, its big rival in everything school related except maybe lunch.

"With all sophomores and freshmen, and two juniors," Drake said. "Our outlook for the future is even better."

At Dunedin, the future is now for six seniors, including four starters. New coach Tom Ward led the Falcons to a 12-13 record overall, and a 7-3 mark in 4A-11, which includes Lakewood and four teams south of the Sunshine Skyway.

Tina Ward, last year's ace and the daughter of the coach, has been able to stick to her spot in the infield while Kalli Cora and Tamara Kipping have handled much of the pitching duties. Good pitching, combined with a lineup that can string together occasional three- and four-run innings, has added up to optimism.

"I would have liked a better won-loss record, but the individual efforts and the improvement I've seen is encouraging," Ward said. "If you're going to peak this is the time you need to do it, and they're kind of doing that right now."

Dunedin's peak win of the season came against Tarpon on Tuesday, as the Falcons scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to tie and one in the 10th to win 5-4.

In other words, the kind of game the good teams win in a district tournament. The kind of game two certain No. 3 seeds think they can pull out and ride all the way to the regionals.

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