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Wyatt no-hitter could be a Leopards original

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- Brad Wyatt made history, in a sense, Friday night, but it will take some digging through the archive of former Hernando baseball coach Ernie Chatman's mind to ascertain the magnitude.

Wyatt became the first Leopard to throw a no-hitter since Matt Morgan whitewashed Citrus in 1997, and the first freshman since ... seemingly only Chatman, who coached the Hernando baseball team for 13 years, knows that.

Current Hernando coach Tim Sims had Chatman on the case as of Friday afternoon.

"We've got Big E on it," he said. "We'll eventually figure it out."

The victim, again, was Citrus as Wyatt struck out six batters and allowed four walks, and benefitted from three superlative defensive plays in staking his claim to Hernando history.

In the second inning, leftfielder Stan Tarkowski doubled a runner off second base after making a running catch. In the fourth, third baseman Drew Innes made a diving stop of a ball to his left and threw out the runner. In the sixth, second baseman John Neal ranged far to his left to throw out a slow runner.

"For the most part we did the normal tabooism and left him alone," Sims said of how he and his staff handled Wyatt during the game. "He never changed his emotions. The only time you could tell he was nervous was the last batter. He got two outs and walked a guy, then the next guy hit the first pitch off the plate and he had to catch it and make the final out on a bang-bang play."

Sims said getting ahead in the count was crucial for the sometimes-erratic freshman. Wyatt was ahead against 16 of 24 batters and threw a first-pitch strike nearly 20 times, Sims estimated.

"He had his best command of the year," Sims said. "He actually pitched. He didn't have his best breaking ball, in my opinion, but he moved it around."

Wyatt's win snapped a two-game losing streak that had driven Sims batty. An apparent renewed sense of urgency by his players on Friday and a 1-0 win over Crystal River on Monday soothed the coach.

"I guess there was a silver lining behind the storm," Sims said. "Those two wins back-to-back were big for us."

Wes Radacky struck out 10 batters and allowed three hits in five innings against the Pirates, and Jason Dunn pitched two innings for his third save to improve Hernando to 11-7 overall, 3-1 in Class 3A, District 8 and 6-3 in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference.

MELKO MACHINE: Springstead coach Tracy Clark knows which players he has to tinker with and which ones to leave alone. Third baseman Brian Melko is tinker-free.

The senior climbed to fourth in the county in batting this week at .423 and is in the top five in hits (22), doubles (5), on-base percentage (.520) and slugging percentage (.710).

"You stay away from someone like that when they're in a groove," Clark said. "You don't see him falter too much."

Clark said Melko has been hitting the ball hard consistently, but finally stopped hitting them at fielders.

"He's been hitting the ball from the get-go, but he had a lot of at'em balls," Clark said. "But he gets his hits because he's smart. With two strikes, he'll battle you and find a ball he can hit to rightfield. But his bat is quick enough he'll turn on a 2-0 pitch."

Melko's production from the third slot in the lineup has been abetted by the protection afforded by clean-up hitter Chris Caraynoff. The senior catcher is batting .388 and is one run-batted-in (16) behind Dunn for the county lead.

"The scary thing (about Caraynoff's RBI total) is he had a little slump and we're just now getting on base for him," Clark said. "He's Mr. Clutch."

FOBELL WEATHER: Junior starter JT Fobell tossed his first prep complete game last week in an 11-5 win over Hernando. The right-hander improved to 4-0, which ties him for most wins and gives him the best win percentage in the county, after surviving a three-run Leopards seventh.

"He had not lost too much, but we had to spot him out there in the seventh," Clark said. "I give him credit, he battled."

Fobell is third in the county -- among those with at least 20 innings pitched -- with a 2.63 ERA and has struck out 29 batters in 24 innings.

Springstead is 8-7 overall, 3-3 in Class 4A, District 6 and 3-2 in the GCAC.

ROTO-DREAM: Get Springstead's Andy Pomeranke on your prep fantasy league team. The season-opening centerfielder has played all three outfield positions, shortstop and second base.

LEEWARD: Freshman Cody Lee had the ability and demonstrated the performance to start the season as the Eagles' leftfielder, but Clark deemed lesson-teaching more important.

Lee, a wrestler, took a little too long reporting to the diamond when his season on the mat concluded.

"He had the opportunity to make some workouts and chose not to," Clark said, "so I chose not to put him on varsity."

Reassigned and apparently recommitted, Lee has finally secured a leftfield spot, and plays center when John DiBenedetto pitches.

* * *

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