By JOHN SCHWARB
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2001
Three weeks after a frightening car crash, two Dunedin pitchers have returned to live action on the mound.
Seniors Bryan Banks and Matt Cheek proved fast healers from cuts and bruises suffered Feb. 22 when a Volvo driven by teammate Kyle Schmidt struck a utility pole at the corner of Keene Road and Salem Court.
"They kind of turned the corner over this past weekend and got to the point where they weren't sore," Dunedin coach Tom Hilbert said. "It's really relieving for us to finally get them back out there."
Banks started for the Falcons on Thursday at Sarasota and cruised to a complete game, allowing three hits and giving up just one run in a 3-1 win.
After sustaining cuts above his left eye and left earlobe that required more than 100 stitches, he remains unable to hit (a batting helmet is painful) but reported no problems throwing.
"I feel good, real good," Banks said. "All my stuff healed up real quick. I was surprised."
Cheek, who allowed a run and two hits in five innings in improving to 3-0 Friday against Venice, suffered a bruised left hip, chest and shoulder. But like Banks, he did not need a doctor's clearing to play and got back on the field soon after the crash. Schmidt's return, however, remains a question mark. The right-hander had staples taken out of his left arm Wednesday and will start light tossing next week. Hilbert said there is a possibility Schmidt could return for the post-season.
Even while the three were out, Dunedin did not miss a beat. The No. 2 team in the Tampa Bay Top 10 (8-1 through Thursday) got quality outings from John Irving and Lakewood transfer Jeremy Billotti.
"We're pretty deep pitching-wise," Hilbert said in an understatement. "That's where we're blessed."
But the Falcons also have realized they were blessed in another way -- only Schmidt was wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. "It's just a big wake-up call for everybody," Cheek said. "A lot of people now, the first thing they always tell us is to make sure to buckle up. That's my mom's first and last thing to tell me every single morning.
"Matt, I love you, have a good day, make sure to buckle up.' She's been saying that ever since I've been driving. But now it's definitely sinking in."
TOURNEY TRIUMPH: Indian Rocks Christian emerged as a somewhat surprising champion March 3 at the 11th annual Sentinel tournament in Fort Myers. IRC beat host Fort Myers Evangelical 2-1 behind a 13-strikeout complete game from Christopher Cranfield. It then topped Highlands Christian in eight innings for the title.
Highlands Christian beat previously unbeaten Northside Christian in the other semifinal. In the final, freshman Caleb Welsh picked up the game-winning RBI.
BITS: Through Wednesday, top-ranked (in the Tampa Bay Top 10 and Baseball America) Seminole had won four consecutive games by 10 runs or more. Monday, John Killalea no-hit Countryside in five innings. ... Lakewood ace Kyle Crump pitched a one-hitter against Largo on Monday. He already has a no-hitter this season, Feb. 13 against Tarpon Springs. ... From the "ouch" department, St. Petersburg Catholic blasted Mitchell 24-0 Thursday. The Mustangs, in their first season, fell to 0-10.