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Gators blank Rams 1-0 in pitchers duel

Rich Neste strikes out 11 and throws a one-hitter to lead Land O'Lakes past Ridgewood.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 5, 2001


LAND O'LAKES -- All fans had to do to divine the story line of Wednesday's Land O'Lakes-Ridgewood game was close their eyes and listen.

Again and again, the sharp sound of the ball striking the catcher's mitt reverberated across The Swamp. But what about that other sound, that metal ping made when bat strikes ball?

Gators starter Rich Neste didn't hear that sound until the sixth, when Derek Kuryliw singled to break up Neste's bid for a no-hitter.

It was the only ping Neste heard in his complete-game one-hitter, leading Land O'Lakes to a 1-0 Sunshine Athletic Conference win.

Neste had 11 strikeouts, walked one and hit one. His 7-0 record is Pasco County's best.

Land O'Lakes (16-3 overall, 9-1 in the SAC) can strengthen its grip on the SAC title with a win over Pasco at home Friday.

"We really didn't deserve to win this game," Gators coach Cal Baisley said.

"But Rich didn't deserve to lose this game either."

It was a feast-and-famine game. Pitchers feasted while batters starved for hits.

Ridgewood starter Justin Libecap (2-2) also turned in a solid outing, limiting the home team to four hits, striking out three and walking seven with no earned runs. He also picked off four runners. The winning run was scored in the fourth. Travis Lomadu walked and advanced to third, then took home on a blown run-down, as the catcher's throw escaped into the outfield.

Neste kept Ridgewood (12-8, 7-4) guessing with a deadly array of off-speed pitches.

"It's just fun playing with hitters," he said. "It's tough to swing when you don't know what's coming."

Third baseman Victor Roldan helped get Land O'Lakes -- ranked No. 9 in Class 4A -- out of a jam in the sixth. With two outs, Neste hit Ridgewood's Dave Hancox and gave up the long single to Kuryliw.

Aaron McLamar bounced a rocket over the third-base line. But Roldan snagged it and got it to second for the forceout. Rams coach Larry Beets said he was disappointed by his team's hitting, and no wonder. Six strikeouts were called, two in the final inning.

"Who was it who said you don't get to .300 by leaving the bat on your shoulder?" Beets said.

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