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It takes two aces to succeed

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 28, 2002

All eyes might not be on Pinellas County teams as the region quarterfinals begin Tuesday, but they soon could be.

With a pair of No. 1-ranked teams (Dunedin in Class 4A and Northside Christian in Class A), a No. 2 team (Clearwater Central Catholic in 3A) and a No. 6 team (East Lake in 5A), four teams in the final four doesn't only seem possible, but probable after looking at the region brackets. Only Northside Christian's appears daunting.

But before those schools make reservations for Tampa's Legends Field (and let's not forget defending state champion Seminole, certainly a dangerous sleeper), we offer a one-word history lesson.

Dunedin.

The past two seasons, the Falcons have demonstrated that no amount of regular-season fireworks and victories -- the top four teams in the county have combined for 111 of them -- can guarantee playoff success.

All it takes is one well-armed pitcher to grind a season to a halt.

For Dunedin, it was Armwood's Mike Pete in 2000 and Jefferson's Jason Weintraub last year, a pair of aces from a pair of district runners-up.

As is usually the case on the first Tuesday of the playoffs, aces will be wild.

But if there is one explanation for the success this year in Pinellas County, it is the pitching depth, and those who survive Day 1 figure to fare well Thursday. As most coaches will tell you, it takes two pitchers to get to state, and that's just what each of the local state contenders has:

Dunedin has Ryan Harvey and Jamie Garris (zero losses combined).

East Lake has Mike Billek and Tyler Huegel (two losses combined).

CCC has Shawn Williams and Justin O'Keeffe (one loss combined).

Northside Christian has Andy Park and Todd Redmond (zero losses combined).

"We have our rotation set up now just the way we want it," Dunedin coach Tom Hilbert said. "With Tuesday and Thursday games and then Tuesday next week, you can go with two guys the rest of the way."

For Dunedin, that meant bouncing a third ace, 7-0 Jeremy Bellotti, to the bullpen, though he'll start in centerfielder and relieve if needed. The Falcons (29-0) open against Port Charlotte, but won't have to face No. 7 Plant, the only other ranked team in the region, until the final.

Northside Christian won't be as lucky.

The Mustangs (29-2) have to steer through the toughest region in the state, with three of the state's top four squads.

After opening against unranked Moore Haven, Northside Christian could face No. 2 Winter Haven All Saints' in the region semifinals. Beyond All Saints', a meeting with No. 4 Seminole Presbyterian awaits in the region final.

Both teams were Class A semifinalists last season.

"That is a very tough region. I think it's the toughest one in the state," Northside Christian coach Darrell Don said. "When you look at all the ranked teams in there, we don't really have an easy game. But we are playing our best baseball right now, so I feel good about our chances."

In 5A, East Lake has No. 2 Fort Myers in its path should it advance to the semifinals, though Seminole and ace Jimmy Kubek could get a first shot at knocking off the Green Wave provided they beat late-comer Clearwater, a final four team last season.

In 2A, CCC is the highest ranked team in its region, with No. 6 Winter Park Trinity Prep looming as a roadblock in the final.

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