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Hernando likes 'tester games'

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- When Hernando coach Tim Sims formulated his schedule, he sought out three especially tough games at three distinctly important times of the season.

First, there was Lake Mary -- the state's top-ranked Class 6A team -- in a pre-season classic. Then there was traditionally strong Tampa Jesuit in mid-season. Next for the 11-9 Leopards is 18-1 Dunedin, ranked fifth in the country in the March 24 Baseball America poll, in the program's annual Easter tournament at Englebert Complex.

"Here comes another one of those tester games," Sims said. "It should be interesting win, lose, or draw. It's fun because of the level of competition. You see what you've got."

Sims said he emphasizes the experience over winning in the annual draw of some of the area's better programs. That's borne from the tourney's timing and the reality of a highly competitive field.

"It's definitely a laid-back, have-fun-type thing," Sims said. "The other night I said to the seniors, "Listen, it's winding down. You want to play hard and have fun and have no regrets how you prepared for and played these finals games.' "

Central (11-11) faces the Palm Harbor University-Northeast winner Monday in the 14-team event, including Bullitt (Ky.) East, Clearwater, Countryside, Dixie Hollins, Doss (Ky.), Pinellas Park, River Ridge, St. Petersburg Catholic and Venice. "We like to play some quality teams and get out of the area a little bit and into a good baseball atmosphere," Central coach Gary Buel said. "The players get to see what it's like in different areas and how strong or weak our area is, how we compare."

BEARING DOWN: Central won its fourth consecutive and fifth in its last six on Thursday, dumping woeful Zephyrhills 4-2 behind Patrick Ryan (5-3). The win likely solidified the Bears as the second seed in Class 4A, District 6 at 5-3, behind Pasco. Central began district play 3-0, lost its next two, then won two straight.

ABOVE WATER: Hernando's 6-4 victory over Springstead on Tuesday not only prevented the Eagles (5-17) from capturing a county championship, but gave the Leopards a winning record (then 10-9) for the first time since March 1, when they were 4-3.

"We're starting to pick things up," Hernando center fielder Dee Brown said. "We started out slow, but it's not how you start, it's how you finish."

The Leopards improved to 11-9 on Thursday when first baseman Stephen Blanton's two-run single with two outs in the seventh inning capped a 12-10, comeback win over Citrus. Blanton's decisive hit followed an intentional walk to Brown that loaded the bases.

Greg Shaw went 3-for-4 with 3 RBI (on a three-run homer) for Hernando. Brown was 2-for-3 with a home run.

NEARLY: Springstead flirted with a season-making win Thursday, but fell 4-0 to Jesuit despite a complete-game, seven-strikeout performance by sophomore Mike Diaz.

The Eagles battled into the fifth in a scoreless tie before Jesuit (19-2), third in the Tampa Bay Top 10, reached Diaz. Springstead's best chance came with two outs in the sixth when it placed runners on second and third base, but third-place hitter Jose Flores struck out to end the inning.

PLAY BALL: Hernando alum Bronson Arroyo is scheduled to make his first start of the season for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday against Kent Bottenfield and the Houston Astros.

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