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Pirates hit despite striking out at state

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002

The end was ugly and painful.

In Wednesday's Class 3A state semifinal at Legends Field in Tampa, Bartow looked confident and focused. Crystal River looked shellshocked. The result was a 7-1 loss that left Pirates coach Brent Hall struggling for the right words to explain what exactly happened.

"We just didn't come to play," Hall said. "I don't believe nerves had anything to do with it. More than anything it was just concentration. ... It was just one of those days when we did absolutely no phase of the game well."

That about sums it up.

But Crystal River's stumble at the finish line should not diminish what the Pirates accomplished. Yes, you'd like to win the big one when you have a shot, but let's not forget how far this baseball program has come.

Two seasons ago, Crystal River won seven games. Last year, the Pirates got tripped by Dunnellon in a district final after handling the Tigers twice during the regular season. The following week, Crystal River was crushed by Alachua Santa Fe, which, in the next round, was beaten into the ground.

The Pirates finished this season 30-4. I don't care who you play, that's a lot of wins. So, Crystal River didn't capture the title. Well, neither did Dunedin, which was No. 1 in the country according to at least one national poll.

When the Falcons arrived at Legends Field for the Class 4A semifinals, they were unbeaten. They lost to Rigdewood 3-1. The following night, Ridgewood lost 13-0 to Jacksonville Bishop Kenny in the championship. If Dunedin can flop, any team can.

We could sit here and analyze Crystal River's loss all day, but it came down to this: Bartow played well and the Pirates didn't.

Afterward, Hall and a few of his players called Bartow "average." On closer examination, they might change their opinion. The Yellow Jackets weren't great, but they weren't all bad either.

Bartow had two of the state's fastest players. Outfielder Tarrence Patterson swiped three bases, including home, and caused havoc all afternoon.

The 'Jackets had hitters willing to stand close to the plate against hard-throwing ace Jimmy Metz, who hit four batters, walked three and was off most of the game.

In the field, Bartow was flawless. On the mound, junk-baller Tim McKay kept the Pirates off-balance with an assortment of off-speed pitches.

Say what you want about Crystal River's mistakes contributing to the loss, but the Yellow Jackets executed when they needed to. This was not just an average team.

Bartow lost to Jacksonville Bolles on Thursday in the final, 2-1. That was the same score in Bolles' semifinal win over No. 1 Plantation American Heritage.

For Crystal River to grow, some would say the returning players should get this game out of their heads. But perhaps the thing to do is think long and hard about what happened.

After losing to Santa Fe in 2001, the Pirates knew they had to improve to compete in the playoffs. Now, after reaching the final four, they know what it takes to win it all.

The atmosphere has changed at Crystal River. Expectations have grown. The fact most of us, including myself, thought the Pirates would reach the title game speaks volumes.

Who'd have thought all of this would have been possible two years ago?

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