tampabay.com

Hitting their stride

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published May 4, 2007


DADE CITY - As if it's not hard enough living up to the season it has put together, consider this:

The Pasco baseball team has to measure up to history. The Pirates have to measure up to the dominant pitchers, home run hitters and clutch performances Pasco fans have grown accustomed to.

They have to win.

Yep. It ain't easy playing in the softball team's shadow.

While the rest of Dade City buzzes about Shamalene Broner and the Sensational Softballers, the baseball team and its loyal supporters get their chance to carve out a piece of local lore tonight when they take on North Marion.

While the softball team has done it with style and dramatic aplomb of late, the baseball team continues to carry their helmets and lunch bucket to games.

Everyone hits. Singles, doubles, triples. Sometimes, the occasional home run Dustin Brown almost rolled one up to the east end zone of W.F. Edwards Stadium Tuesday night.

But always with the hits.

"I don't think we expected the hitting to be as solid through the lineup as it is, " said senior catcher and Florida Southern signee Zach Maggard. "That's been a nice blessing."

On more than a few occasions this season, every Pasco starter has had a hit in the same game. And the ones that don't seem to find a way to get on base.

Tuesday against St. Cloud, the Pirates banged out nine hits, though it seemed like 20. And eight players contributed the hits. The lone exception was Josh Johnson, but he walked. And scored.

"We don't get nervous when we get down because the guys all feel they can hit, " coach Ricky Giles said. "They looked a little tight in the beginning, but they got it going."

The Pirates always seem to get it going.

"I'd say we're pretty confident right now, " Maggard said.

The Pirate pitchers deserve a lot of credit for that confidence. When you know you need two runs to have a chance, your bat seems longer, lighter, faster.

For Pasco, this has been the life.

Tonight, the Pirates have the supreme luxury of starting junior ace Brown, their No. 1 pitcher, because they were able to throw their No. 1.1 pitcher in junior Aaron Brandt on Tuesday.

This season, Brown has shut down Land O'Lakes and Zephyrhills and Nature Coast twice. He has a no-hitter. A few one-hitters. Multiple games with 10 or more strikeouts.

And he is fresh, having last pitched a week ago today.

"Dustin has really showed us some good outings lately, " said Maggard, who calls the pitches for Pasco. "And when he gets in trouble, he has shown us he can get out of it."

North Marion (17-12, winners of a season-high five straight) is likely to counter with senior Cody Scully, who was used twice in districts and two innings Tuesday.

This time of year, desperate teams start pulling fans out of the stands to pitch as starters turn to relievers, wearing down with each passing game.

Giles, he has struggled to find innings for all of his pitchers. Sometimes it means yanking a kid with a perfect game, as he did in a lopsided district semifinal.

When the year started, Giles wasn't sure he had enough quality pitching. Brown and Brandt were juniors, Little League studs but untested on varsity. Alex Morphew was a lanky lefty transfer from Wesley Chapel. Josh Schofield wasn't on the team last year.

Now he can turn to any of the guys when he's in need.

Thing is, he rarely is.

So forgive the Pasco baseball team if it goes out tonight and smacks a few hits here and there, scores a run or two every inning and gets another pitching performance that has fans folding their captain's chairs in the fifth inning.

It's not always exciting, but it's pretty darned effective.

John C. Cotey can be reached at (813) 909-4612 or johncotey@gmail.com

Tonight's game

Class 4A

North Marion (17-12) at Pasco (28-3), 7 p.m.

Outlook: The No. 2-ranked Pirates will trot Dustin Brown (8-1) to the mound to take on North Marion senior Cody Scully (4-4, 5 saves). The Pirates have allowed just eight hits and three runs in four wins since the end of the regular season, and Brown is coming off a one-hitter in last week's district championship.

If Pasco wins: The Pirates would host the winner of the Crystal River-Orlando Bishop Moore game in the region final Tuesday.