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No saying good-bye to postseason just yet

A tough opponent doesn't have Nature Coast throwing in the towel.

By KELLIE DIXON
Published May 1, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - Simply put, underdog is a polite way of saying anticipated loser.

The label is one that clung to the Nature Coast baseball team for at least the beginning of its four-year existence. But this season the Sharks peeled it off completely. Led by its first group of four-year players, Nature Coast notched a school-record 20 wins and finished second in the district tournament to reach today's region quarterfinal against Orlando Bishop Moore.

Guess who's the underdog again.

Yep.

Today the Sharks face off against the No. 1 Class 4A team in the state, a team that has reached the state finals twice in the past six years and made it to the semifinals or better in the past three seasons. By the way, Bishop Moore has most of its players back from its 2006 state semifinal squad, and starting pitcher Andy Horton has played in three final fours.

While the Hornets 24-1 have experience, Nature Coast (20-6) has expectations.

"I think everybody's wanting to prove that we can play with the No. 1 team in the state, " Nature Coast coach Dan Garofano said Monday. "I'm actually happy we are playing them. They're supposed to be the best team around, and it's supposed to be a good measuring stick for us to see where we're at. ...If you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best."

Nature Coast has been building to this point - from an initial two-win season to this year's record-setting one. The Sharks aren't easily intimidated and last Friday's championship loss reminded them they need to be a little more aggressive at the plate.

"We've got one more game at least, " first baseman Mike Dudek said Friday. "We know we're going to bounce back and be competitive."

Centerfielder senior Kyle Kuzniar paused to think about the Sharks' record-setting season after Friday's game.

"It's nice, but we're still not done, " Kuzniar said. "If we're not at states, I'll be disappointed."

Kellie Dixon can be reached at kdixon@sptimes.com or (352) 544-9480.

The matchup Class 4A region quarterfinal

Orlando Bishop Moore (24-1)

Coach: Dave Wheeler

Probable starter: Andy Horton (12-0), Sr.

Players to watch: 1B Jeff Caldwell (seven home runs), OF Nick Cox, IF Ian MacGeorge, OF Spencer Theisen and C Ben McMahan

At a glance: Bishop Moore, a usual state championship contender, has never won it all. ...The Hornets' perfect record was ruined in mid April with a 5-2 loss to Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons. "I think that refocused our team in a positive direction, " coach Dave Wheeler said. "It's hard to go win all those games and not start to feel a little bit of pressure." ...The Hornets prefer to play small ball and have benefited from a deep pitching staff so Horton will be well-rested for tonight's game.

Nature Coast (20-6)

Coach: Dan Garofano

Probable starter: Bryan Daniels (7-2), Sr.

Players to watch: CF Kyle Kuzniar, 1B Mike Dudek, OF Blake Dudkewic, OF Lowell Bebout, 2B-SS Kenny Treverton and C-3B Ryan Erbe

At a glance: The Sharks, making their region quarterfinal debut, are playing their best season of baseball in the program's four-year history. Nature Coast played in its first district title game Friday. ...The Sharks are a balanced team with nine players batting .300 or better. They have relied on different players throughout the season to give them a boost at crucial times. For example, junior pitcher Travis Murray, slated for first relief tonight, helped the Sharks take a 10-6 regular-season win over Pasco.