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Pirates covet front-seat status

Published February 2, 2007


DADE CITY - Eric Stroud pretty much owns the passenger seat for road trips in Pasco's team van driven by coach Mark DeAugustino.

Ray Perez, Stroud's teammate and sparring partner, wants shotgun. Bad, really bad.

"It's whoever places highest in each tournament," DeAugustino said. "It's fine with me, too, if Javier (Benitez is) riding in the front seat. Chance Finlay rode in the front seat on the way home from Alabama."

As one of three Pasco champions in Saturday's Sunshine Athletic Conference meet, Perez came close to staking claim to the coveted seat. He pinned Hudson's William Bentley in three minutes, 27 seconds of the 189-pound final.

Stroud (215) trumped that by pinning River Ridge's Dave Sowers in 58 seconds, so he will ride shotgun to Saturday's Class 2A-5 meet at Zephyrhills. Being so close in weight, Perez and Stroud often pair up at practice. Perez, who missed nearly half a season due to an elbow injury, does not back down despite giving up about 25 pounds.

"(Perez) goes nip and tuck with Eric and he's a weight class below," DeAugustino said. "They're two quality wrestlers that are state caliber that get to push each other. They're even."

Both, who are juniors and returning state qualifiers, say those head-to-head tussles are invaluable learning experiences.

"It's helped me a lot, because (Stroud is) bigger and stronger than me," Perez said. "I've got to really know where my hips are, because if they're not in the right place I know he'll crush me."

Added Stroud: "He's quicker than most everybody I wrestle."

Both helped Pasco win conference and district titles last season. Perez was a district champ at 189 and Stroud placed third at 215. They were state qualifiers.

BUCS FAVORED: Last week, the Pirates were runnerups to Gulf in the SAC tourney. Zephyrhills coach Matt McDermott, whose team hosts a postseason meet for the second straight Saturday, envisions a repeat of that finish.

"Gulf's probably the dead-on favorite to win it," McDermott said.

As for his team, which placed fourth at conference, McDermott said, "There's going to be a few kids who will try to step up a little bit, because we're at home."

HONORARY PINS: One of those Bulldogs McDermott mentioned is returning state qualifier Westley Thornton, a senior who lost in Saturday's 140 final, 8-3 to Land O'Lakes' Josh Kweller.

Thornton has a team-high 19 pins, evidenced by the 6-inch shiny metal pins on his team jacket usually worn at meets by his sister, Jessica, a freshman at Wiregrass.

"It's good motivation," McDermott said of the specially ordered pins used for horse blankets. "We've been giving them out for years."

THE HEAVY: Hudson's Travis Tindell, Gulf's John Palasky, Zephyrhills' William Hand and Pasco's Chris Burgos should make the heavyweight class one of the closest battles - for second, that is. Orlando Bishop Moore's Robert Isola, a state champ at 215 last season, has moved up so the heavyweight battle likely will be for runnerup.

"He's the real deal," DeAugustino said of Isola.

Steve Lee can be reached at or (352) 521-6517.

Check it out

Class A-6

When/where: Saturday at Zephyrhills

Schedule: First round, 10 a.m.; finals, 2 p.m.

Teams (locals first): Gulf, Hudson, Pasco, Wiregrass Ranch, Zephyrhills, Lake Highland Prep, Orlando Bishop Moore, Orlando Jones, Oviedo Hagerty

Class 2A-5

When/where: Saturday at Dunedin

Schedule: First round, 11 a.m.; finals, 5 p.m.

Teams (locals first): Land O'Lakes, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Wesley Chapel, Central, Dunedin, Springstead, Tarpon Springs

Class 3A-6

When/where: Saturday at East Lake.

Schedule: First round, 10 a.m.; finals, 2 p.m.

Teams (locals first): Mitchell, Countryside, East Lake, Largo, Palm Harbor University, Pinellas Park, Sarasota Riverview, St. Petersburg, Sarasota

At stake: Top four in each of 14 weight classes advance to regionals.

Admission: Two sessions, $5 each; $6 for one session.


[Last modified February 1, 2007, 23:56:22]

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