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Bulldogs' Wardell off to a fast start

By JOHN C. COTEY, JAMAL THALJI, LINDA ROTHSTEIN and STEVE LEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


A week ago, Land O'Lakes coach Cal Baisley stated matter-of-factly: "We won't give Danny Wardell anything to hit this year."

But in Wednesday's game, he had no choice as the Zephyrhills slugger came to the plate with the bases loaded. So Jose Santa had no choice, and Wardell cracked a grand slam.

The Gators still won 13-10.

For Wardell, who led the county with a record 16 homers last year, it was his fifth home run in six games. He hit two in the win over Gulf (new coach Shaun Weimer might not have known any better) and none against Mitchell (coach Phil Bell definitely knew better).

"Phil walked him just about every time up," Bulldogs coach Bruce Cimorelli said.

Gators win without Baisley brothers

The Gators are still missing two of their top five pitchers (Jeff Baisley and David Starkey) and it showed as the Bulldogs hit Jose Santa hard.

"We might have scored 13 runs but we didn't give up 10 last year," said Baisley, lamenting the loss of current pro pitchers Derek Thompson, Cory Doyne and Kurt Shafer.

The Gators scored six runs in the second inning after second baseman Greg Rosenthal hit a grand slam, but Zephyrhills came right back with eight on Danny Wardell's grand slam.

Rich Neste eventually relieved Santa and pitched 52/3 innings, allowing just one earned run, and sophomore Chris Leslie hit his first varsity homer.

Gators coach Cal Baisley said his sons, Jeff and Brian, would probably play Saturday against Hernando regardless of how the basketball team did Thursday in its playoff game against Countryside.

"According to Brian, he (coach Dave Puhalski) is going to let them play Saturday," Baisley said. "They've always done both. We're not the same without them."

Vari makes case for spot in lineup

Land O'Lakes sophomore Brandon Vari, who plays first base when Rich Neste pitches but otherwise is the designated hitter, was originally going to play varsity until coach Cal Baisley got his basketball players back. But after going 3 for 4 with an RBI against Zephyrhills after carrying a hot stick through two games and the preseason classics, Baisley is not so sure he'll be sent down.

"Brandon is putting his foot in the lineup," he said. "Our original plan was for him to be a jayvee player, but if he keeps swinging the bat ..."

Bulldogs find offense in regular season

Zephyrhills (3-3) will take its lumps this year, but so far it is hitting back.

After scoring just 10 runs in three games at the Tom Varn Invitational, the Bulldogs have scored 29 in three regular-season games.

Following a 10-9 win over Mitchell and a surprising 9-3 win over Gulf, the Bulldogs were beaten by Land O'Lakes Wednesday 13-10.

"Pitching is our Achilles' heel," coach Bruce Cimorelli said.

The exception might be Tyson Prickett, who got the wins over Mitchell and Gulf and lost a 4-3 game to Ridgewood at the Tom Varn. And Danny Wardell pitched well against Seminole Presbyterian.

"We'll get the pitchers," Cimorelli said. "They're coming around."

Pirates pitchers struggle to find plate

Pasco pitching coach Todd Miller wore a path between the dugout and the mound during the Pirates' 9-8 loss to Hudson.

The Pirates led 8-1 behind the pitching of Trey Evans before a procession of relievers let Hudson tie the game in the sixth and seventh innings before winning it in 11.

Pasco walked 14 batters, giving Hudson more free passes than it actually earned with its 11 hits.

The performance prompted coach Ricky Giles to attempt drafting a fan for mound duty, asking: "Can you throw a strike?"

After making the final of the Tom Varn Invitational, the Pirates (2-2) have dropped two straight.

Errors, hitting woes plague Wildcats

Wesley Chapel (0-4) has been outscored 37-3 so far. One of the bright spots, even if it doesn't officially count, was a 12-2 win over Mitchell in the City Classic on Feb. 8.

The Wildcats' problem so far has been twofold: they have committed 23 errors while getting just nine hits in the three games.

Centerfielder Gabe Quinones leads the team with a .467 batting average.

Rams want revenge for Knights' sweep

Ridgewood and River Ridge play tonight in a renewal of the the west side's top rivalry.

Last year, the Royal Knights swept the season series with a two-hit, 7-0 shutout and an 11-2 romp at the Rams' ballpark as River Ridge catcher Billy Phillips hit homers in both games. In the second game, Ridgewood coach Larry Beets was ejected in the fifth inning for arguing a call.

"I remember River Ridge was pretty excited about beating us that first time," Beets said. "I'm hoping (I'll stick around) this time; it's been a while since I've seen a full game."

Jack Homko expects last year's sweep to be a topic of conversation at Rams practice this week.

"It's a pretty intense rivalry," he said. "We got them last year and I'm sure they're using that as a motivation."

Knights can remove their rally caps

The Royal Knights are 3-2 after dropping a 7-4 decision to East Lake Wednesday night.

The Royal Knights fought back in the game to tie it at 4, but the conclusion could be summed up by three numbers: 1-2-3.

In the bottom of the sixth with the game tied, River Ridge's 1-2-3 hitters came up with no outs and a runner on second. But Greg Estevez (who had tripled earlier) popped out, and Chad Justus (who had homered earlier) and Billy Phillips (one of the county's top hitters) struck out. -- Compiled by

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