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Joy of victory, agony of defeat, and back to joy

By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 5, 2002

In the unwritten rules of polite journalism, 11 p.m. is normally too late to call someone at home. Given the circumstances, I figured Larry Beets wouldn't mind a rare exception.

An hour earlier, I had seen Beets walk up to reporters after his Ridgewood team earned a hard-fought 2-1, extra-innings victory at Daytona Beach Community College. He looked nothing like a coach who'd just won a region playoff game, but more like someone who'd misplaced a winning lottery ticket.

"He's just beside himself," his wife said when she answered the phone back home and gave me Beets' cell-phone number.

Beside himself was an understatement. It would be one thing to lose a close game on the field -- he had gotten his leadoff batter on in the seventh, for instance, only to have him caught stealing. But Friday night was different.

The Rams won in grand fashion, scoring the winning run in a style that was all Beets. A day earlier, Central coach Gary Buel had said that his longtime colleague was at his most dangerous with runners on the corners, because there were so many things he could do to you.

Given that scenario with one out in the eighth, Beets sent big first baseman Danny Lotz lumbering home on a squeeze play. Freshman Jon Koenigsfeld laid down a perfect bunt, slow enough to keep the pitcher from throwing home in time.

The real intrigue didn't come until after the game. Rams ace Ronnie Lowe pitched eight masterful innings, this after tossing a seven-inning complete game against Central on Tuesday. Seabreeze coach Anthony Campanella told Beets he was protesting the game because of a rule that pitchers cannot throw more than 14 innings in one week.

Despite his 24 years as a high school coach, Beets didn't know the rule, and Seabreeze was sure enough in its accusation that Beets couldn't bring himself to talk about the win after the game. The mere possibility of losing a game he'd already won sickened him.

And when I got through to Beets late Friday, our cell phones conspired to keep Beets unsure of his team's fate, the two of us sounding like a commercial, saying, "Can you hear me now?" back and forth until he finally hung up.

He called back a moment later and I was able to relay what my editor had found in the state's baseball rulebook. There was a rule prohibiting pitchers from pitching more than 14 innings in a week. But what saved Beets was a rule that followed, stating that no protest could overrule the official's rulings on the field. Because the umpire had allowed Lowe to pitch the eighth, those three outs would stand, and Ridgewood would advance to the region final at Ocala Forest on Tuesday night.

"Oh, my gosh," Beets said in relief. "So they're not going to pull the rug out from under me?"

As far as rugs go, this win was Burt Reynolds-quality. If a win could encapsulate the Rams' season, this had, with a mix of old and young, using solid pitching, steady defense and timely hitting.

It started with one of the team's two seniors, Lowe, who controlled the game from the mound. He gave up a single to the game's first batter, then picked him off first base. The next batter singled, and Lowe caught him off base, but the runner made it to second after a botched rundown. From that point on, only one of the next 19 batters managed a hit.

And then the senior got help from a freshman. With runners at first and second and two outs in the sixth, Seabreeze's Josh Ridenour ripped a single to rightfield. But Koenigsfeld came up throwing and catcher Monte Werner made the tag at home plate, turning what would have been the go-ahead run into a momentous third out.

So Beets, still the only coach the Rams have known, learned Friday night that he can still be surprised at the end of his 24th season. Well, as it turns out, not the end just yet.

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