Sharks go out with few regrets

Published May 3, 2007

ORLANDO - Nature Coast centerfielder Kyle Kuzniar looked up in disbelief.

All the senior could do was watch Alex Mendez's second home run of the game sail overhead. The likelihood of the Sharks extending their record-setting season trailed not too far behind.

Nature Coast had overcome a one-run deficit earlier. But being down by four with one inning to play proved too much. Orlando Bishop Moore, notorious for bringing heartbreak to Hernando County schools in years past, added Nature Coast to its list. The Hornets defeated the Sharks 8-4 in a region quarterfinal.

"It's hard to hang your head, " Kuzniar said. "But losing like that hurts."

The sting smarted even more when the Sharks reflected on the way it happened.

For the first four innings, the Sharks led the No. 1-ranked 4A team in the state. Nature Coast, in its fourth year with a program, had undefeated senior pitcher Andy Horton a little nervous. Heck, the Sharks even got the attention of Bishop coach Dave Wheeler, who has led three straight squads to the semifinals or better.

"They rank right up there, " Wheeler said. "They battled."

Bishop struggled against pitcher Bryan Daniels, who recovered fine after giving up a home run to Mendez in the first inning. Daniels struck out six and gave up one hit in the first four innings.

"We didn't think about how big they were or how strong they were, " Daniels said.

The underdog Sharks had the powerful Bishop squad on the ropes. The players were racking up hits. Runs were coming in. Smiles were stretching wider.

Then it all came crashing down. The Sharks' three-run lead wasn't enough. In the fifth inning, a Mendez shot down the third baseline took a bounce. Bishop scored and took the momentum, racking up six runs.

Nature Coast coach Dan Garofano stood on the third-base line and reflected on the past four years as the Sharks took their final at-bats. He can remember a time when the Sharks didn't even have a field. He can look at his seniors now and know how far they have come - from scrawny newbies to strong leaders. After the game, Garofano thanked the seniors, who led the Sharks to their first 20-win season, district final and region quarterfinal appearance.

"This is a building block for our program, " Garofano said. "We don't plan on being one and done. ...The seniors laid the foundation."

Senior Lowell Bebout cracked a smile while his team packed up in the dugout. The most memorable part about his four years? Beating Pasco on senior night obviously was fun, but Bebout chose Tuesday's game.

"Getting here - that was good, " Bebout said. "We've never done that."

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