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River Ridge has the talent and experience to get there again

By STEVE LEE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 12, 2002

NEW PORT RICHEY -- So many factors come into play for a team to even reach a state tournament, much less win a championship.

Clutch hitting, solid defense, effective pitching, aggressive baserunning, chemistry, placing team goals above individual achievements, etc.

As vital as anything on that list, however, is veteran leadership. Though Class 4A state finalist River Ridge is losing six seniors, there appears to be ample experience for another playoff run.

Five freshmen were in the dugout for Friday's championship game loss to Fort Lauderdale Aquinas. In fact, two started; rightfielder Stephanie Seaman and designated hitter Danielle Denney.

"I think the standard is set," coach Ernie Beck said. "I think the girls know what's expected."

Senior centerfielder Adrienne Cicirello feels this is the most talented River Ridge club she has played on, adding, "It's only going to get better next year."

The 2003 River Ridge lineup card will be bereft of Christine Beck, Meghan Beach, Amy Cassell, Kim Deeb, Jill Hrovoski and Cicirello. Like Cicirello, Hrovoski believes the Knights' future is bright.

"All of the underclassmen have as much heart as (the seniors) do," said Hrovoski, a third baseman. "I think they all will step up in their own way."

Seaman has already stepped up in a big way. She batted .403 with 29 runs scored and six doubles to finish third on the team in those categories.

And heady play, like charging the ball and throwing out St. Thomas Aquinas' Liz Bennett at first base on what should have been a single in the 4A final, is a shining example of Seaman's defensive ability.

Then there's Tricia Thomas, the primary pitcher on River Ridge's junior varsity squad that went 16-1-1.

When Thomas was called up for the district tournament, she served notice that she can hit as well by driving a home run over the left-centerfield fence in her first varsity at-bat.

"Everyone's doing pretty good," JV coach Laine Smith said. "It's going to be pretty good at River Ridge for a while."

Juniors Stefanie Simon, Kelly Evers, Mandy Udovich and Mandi Petrella, along with sophomore pitching sensation Kiki Von Holt, a transfer from East Lake who won 14 games, will shoulder the burden of being experienced upperclassmen.

Udovich, a catcher, feels that group already is proven and will be even better next year. And that could lead to a second consecutive state appearance.

"I think with the talent we have, we could do that again," Udovich said of a return to states.

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