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Rams want revenge for Knights' sweep

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

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


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. We need to just keep it going."

Ridgewood's Ronny Lowe will start against Justin Roth.

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.

In the top of the seventh, East Lake's 1-2-3 hitters set up a three-run inning.

"They held us and that gave them the momentum," River Ridge coach Jack Homko said.

So far, big deficits don't scare Cobras

Hudson (2-2) opened its regular season in stirring fashion, rallying from an 8-2 deficit in the sixth and seventh innings against Pasco before winning at home 9-8 in 11 innings Tuesday night.

Starting pitcher Rob Petrucci didn't have his best stuff, but Bryan Strawser did. In relief, the sophomore threw 52/3 innings, allowed two hits, no runs and struck out six to get the win. It was Strawser's second consecutive outstanding performance.

"I was very impressed with the kid," Hudson coach Jack Ledbetter said. "He mowed them down and that's a good hitting team."

Mark Wilty had a key two-run double in the sixth inning, and Kenny Eva drove in the game-winner with a solid single in the 11th.

Steve Smith had three hits for Hudson, and Jeremy Lees had two. As a team, Hudson had 11 hits, but Pasco pitchers walked 14 batters.

Hancox's home-opener memorable

Ridgewood's Dave Hancox will be a strong conference player of the year candidate, and he showed why Tuesday against Wesley Chapel.

Hancox christened the Wildcats' new park with a bases-loaded triple, and pitched all five innings in a 12-0 win, striking out 10 and allowing just two hits.

The Rams (3-1) got offensive support from Mike Sentner and Rick Brensinger, who each had two hits and an RBI.

Bulldogs' Wardell off to a fast start

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).

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.

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.

-- Compiled by John C. Cotey, Jamal Thalji, Linda Rothstein, Steve Lee.

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