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Pitching change comes too late

East Lake starter Mike Billek tires in the sixth but is left in the game to feed the Mosley comeback.

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 19, 2002

East Lake starter Mike Billek tires in the sixth but is left in the game to feed the Mosley comeback.

TAMPA -- Starting pitcher Mike Billek did not want to come out of Saturday's championship game against Lynn Haven Mosley.

But should he have been taken out regardless? That question will dog East Lake coach Lee Byers, who left Billek in the game until it was too late in his team's 8-7 loss to the Dolphins.

Billek, who threw 20 pitches Friday night in one inning of relief and said he didn't get to bed until 2 a.m., struggled through the sixth inning Saturday. Before Garrison Creamer popped out to end the inning after the Dolphins had cut a 7-0 lead to 7-4, Billek's pitch count reached 102.

Byers, though, stuck with Billek to start the seventh, even though he admitted his ace was "just going on adrenaline at that point."

Asked if he had though about taking Billek out in the sixth, Byers said, "Not at that point."

Then he said what coaches rarely admit:

"With a seven-run lead, we felt we could afford to give up some runs at that point."

As it turned out, East Lake couldn't afford to give up any runs. Billek returned in the seventh and retired the first batter, but allowed singles to the next three to load the bases, finishing with 114 pitches thrown.

With every pitch Billek threw, the Dolphins felt their chances to win improve.

"We were here last night and saw that he threw one inning," Mosley coach Doug Lee said. "I thought he was strong. But I thought that if we took some pitches early in the game that it would pay off in the end."

It did, even if the hits Billek gave up were just getting past the infield. Finally, Byers called for the bullpen. It might have been too late as the Mosley bench came alive.

"Hindsight is easy," said Byers, in his 25th year of coaching in Pinellas County. "Knowing the outcome, maybe I'd do it differently."

Reliever C.K. Gordon bounced his first pitch off the next batter's helmet, and after a groundout scored another run to make it 7-6, Gordon got Darren Golema to hit a grounder shortstop Jeff Germano couldn't come up with that scored the two runs that decided the game.

Billek said he never thought about coming out of the game, even though Scott McMullian, who saved the district semifinal and final, and Gordon, who closed the state semifinal, were available.

"There was never a point in my mind where I didn't want to finish that game," Billek said. "You work all season for this game. It's a winner's attitude -- you don't want to come out of the game no matter what. You can't even see how bad you're doing. I wanted to finish that game. I wanted to bring a state title to East Lake."

-- Times correspondent Anthony Gagliano contributed to this report.

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