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Tigers look to start new trend

Last season, Jesuit finally defeated Bradenton Southeast. Tonight, the Seminoles come looking to regain their dominance and the lead in the district race.

By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 20, 2002

TAMPA -- Jesuit coach Dominick Ciao remembers pretty clearly what used to happen when his Tigers played Manatee County teams.

And what he remembers isn't pretty: Bradenton Southeast 27, Jesuit 6; Bradenton Bayshore 26, Jesuit 13; Southeast 31, Jesuit 12. Then there's the ultimate insult: Southeast 48, Jesuit 0 in the first round of the 1994 state playoffs.

"We got beat pretty badly when we went down there," Ciao said, understating the Tigers' 3-6 record against Manatee County schools since he took over in 1986.

But then a strange thing happened. People began to realize what nice beaches Manatee County has and that housing was cheaper just south of the Skyway Bridge and the schools began to fill up.

Soon they were overloaded with students, and new schools such as Lakewood Ranch were opened. Districts were redrawn and a majority of the athletes that carried Southeast to state titles in 1993 and '94 were slated to attend Palmetto High.

The Manatee mystique took a serious hit and Jesuit (along with all the other Hillsborough and Pinellas schools) took full advantage.

Plant City beat Southeast and Bradenton Manatee along with Sarasota Riverview in 1998 to become the first Hillsborough County team to beat the "Big Three" in the same season. Seminole eliminated Manatee from the playoffs last year, becoming the first Pinellas County team to beat the Hurricanes since 1986.

And then there was Jesuit's revenge.

Last season, the Tigers traveled to Southeast, a team that won at least 10 games and advanced to the state semifinals three straight years, and walked out of John Kiker Memorial Stadium with a 23-14 win. It is believed to be the Tigers' first win over Southeast since Paul Maechtle began coaching there 20 years before.

It was as big a win as there is during the third week of any season. It gave the Tigers a leg up in the Class 3A, District 8 race and it made them the team to beat for the rest of the year.

Still, Ciao downplayed the win. He said the fact that the game was played the Tuesday following Sept. 11 took away some of the intensity, though he gave credit to his team for showing up more ready to play.

"We kind of sneaked up on them," Ciao said.

A covert win is still a win and the Tigers used that one to springboard to a 12-1 record, losing in the region final for the third time in four years. Tonight they get to prove that victory wasn't a fluke.

Perhaps more important, they could jump ahead of three other teams in the district race while saddling the dangerous Seminoles with a loss.

"This game is so big," Ciao said. "It's the first district game, and if you win, you're in control of your own destiny. You have to go out and win every district game.

"You lose the first one and you're chasing."

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