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Ridgewood remains the team to beat

While the Rams lack the experienced players of past seasons, they don't lack for talent.

Published March 9, 2004

NEW PORT RICHEY - Healthy optimism is as much a part of baseball for coach Larry Beets as a clean bunt to advance a runner or the understanding never to take a third strike looking.

So as Ridgewood's 2002 trip to the state championship game fades in the rearview mirror, the cupboard is not as fully stocked as in recent years, but the last carryovers from that memorable squad could be leading a new generation of Rams on a wild playoff run of their own.

"This team really has just three returning players with a lot of experience, and (staff ace Erik) Bua is the only pitcher with any real amount of innings," Beets said. "But the way this team has grown on each other, it's going to be a mission."

Ridgewood's 4-1 start has solidified their status as the county's team to beat, with the Rams' lone loss coming in an 8-7 setback to East Lake in the finals of the Tom Varn Invitational in Brooksville.

Thursday's 8-3 win against Mitchell had new players reprising classic roles in Beets baseball.

Junior lefty Bryan Hesse was the quietly dominating pitcher, mowing down 14 of the last 15 batters. And of the team's 11 hits, just one went for extra bases, the rest a barrage of bunt singles, infield singles and the occasional base hit.

"We got some timely hitting, and that's the key," said Beets, who entered his 21st season with 352 wins at Ridgewood.

Anchoring the lineup are seniors Aaron McLamar and John Servidio, starters on the '02 team and dominating hitters ever since. Junior outfielder Jon Koenigsfeld is the only other regular left from the state runnerups, but there is no shortage of talent.

Shortstop Jeff Roxby returns to lead off the lineup, and Jeremy Coolidge takes over at catcher for Josh Le'Roy, who transferred to Mitchell.

Newcomers include Shannon Eva, a transfer from Hudson, and first-year starters John Racener (2B), James Noto (DH) and Kevin Johnson (1B).

As is the case with much of the county, the depth of the pitching staff remains to be seen.

Hesse, who pitched a one-hit shutout against Pasco and a four-hitter to beat Mitchell, looks like a strong complement to Bua, with Eva, Koenigsfeld and Jesse Guthrie also battling for innings.

A new district alignment takes away Land O'Lakes, which upset the top-seeded Rams in last year's championship, as well as Mitchell, which handed Ridgewood its only district loss in the regular season.

With none of the Rams' district challengers posting winning records last year, the closest battle might be for the Sunshine Athletic Conference crown, which the Rams took by three games last year.

[Last modified March 9, 2004, 01:35:32]

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