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PCAC enters its final stretch

Unlike previous seasons, there is no dominant team going into the conference tournament.

By RODNEY PAGE

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2001


As horse races go, the Pinellas County Athletic Conference tournament isn't an easy one to handicap.

There's no Secretariat in this bunch. No early-90s Countryside, no mid-80s Tarpon Springs that can be expected to run away from the field. Instead, the brackets are full of steady horses looking to be strong down the stretch.

There are eight teams in the North and South divisions, some with an even chance of claiming the title, some with slightly higher odds and a few long shots.

The pairings for this season's tournament, which for the second consecutive year were determined by a blind draw prior to the season, provide some interesting first-round games.

Those games are played Monday. Tuesday is the second round and Wednesday is the divisional finals. The overall final is Friday at the North Division champion.

North Division

THE FAVORITES: Clearwater, Seminole and Tarpon Springs. The Tornadoes were on fire during the first half of the season but have slipped slightly and are 14-4-3 after tying St. Petersburg and Seminole.

Seminole recently defeated Palm Harbor University before allowing three second-half goals Thursday in a 3-3 tie against Clearwater. Tarpon Springs, led by the scoring duo of Jeremy Voulgarakis and Brad Welch, defeated Osceola last week in a district game and appears to be playing well.

OUTSIDE CHANCE: Countryside, PHU and East Lake. Countryside and East Lake are young and have been up and down this season. The Cougars are coming off a 2-1 win Thursday over state-ranked Land O'Lakes, but opening against Tarpon Springs doesn't help. East Lake opens against Clearwater.

PHU has been slipping lately, especially after a 4-1 loss to Bloomingdale on Thursday.

LONG SHOTS: Dunedin and Largo. Both have struggled this season, and opening-round games against Seminole and PHU, respectively, will not be easy.

South Division

THE FAVORITES: Lakewood, Osceola, Northeast and St. Petersburg. However, either Lakewood or Osceola and either Northeast or St. Petersburg will be eliminated because they play each other in the first round.

St. Petersburg has come on lately, and Northeast has been a surprise all season. It appears as if the Lakewood/Osceola winner has the best chance to play for the overall championship.

OUTSIDE CHANCE: Boca Ciega and Pinellas Park. While the Patriots started well, they seemed to have leveled out. The Pirates, with ace forward Ricky Hanson, should at least advance to the second round after playing Gibbs on Monday.

LONG SHOTS: Gibbs and Dixie Hollins. Gibbs hasn't won a game this season, so three in a row now is unlikely. Dixie is not much better at 2-11.

PREDICTED CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH: Seminole versus Osceola in a rematch of last season. This time, Seminole scores a last-second goal to claim the championship.

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