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Gulf's Fagan just misses a no-hitter

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2000


Land O'Lakes lefty Derek Thompson flirted with a no-hitter Tuesday against Hudson but we've grown to expect that. From Joe Dan Fagan at Gulf, however, we do not.

Yet on April 7 against Ridgewood, the Buc southpaw nearly pulled off the task, taking a perfect game into the sixth inning before the Rams finally got a runner aboard. They went on to eke out a 2-1 win.

Fagan (2-6) pitched seven innings, giving up two hits and striking out six before being lifted. The only run he allowed was unearned, and it came in the seventh as he went for his second shutout this season. With two outs, Ridgewood catcher Bryce Johns singled on a 1-2 pitch to score a runner who had reached on an error, tying the game and sending it into extra innings.

Carl DiMartino won the game in the 10th with his eighth home run.

"That was easily the best game he has pitched in high school," Gulf coach Phil Bell said. "If we could have put some offense together, it's a no-brainer, he pitched well enough to win."

Fagan, a junior, also shut out Class 2A St. Petersburg Catholic at the Tom Varn Classic in February. With a fastball in the low-80s and a sharp curveball, Fagan is effective when he's able to mix his pitches, but Ridgewood coach Larry Beets thought he looked especially fast against his Rams.

"Joe Dan pitched a heck of a game," Beets said. "That's the most pop I've seen him have on the ball. He threw against us the first game of the season and we didn't do much with him then either."

Bell said, "He's not overpowering, not going to blaze it by you. But he's got a lot of movement on the fastball and a very good curveball. When he's on and makes people miss, he can be very effective."

Ridgewood will have to figure Fagan out at least one more time -- Gulf and Ridgewood will meet in the first round of the Class 5A, District 10 tournament on April 25.

HANDY DAVE: Despite his great outing, Fagan may have been outpitched by Ram junior Dave Hancox, who struck out 14 and allowed three hits in a no-decision. He allowed only a first-inning run as Gulf's Jon Kriedler walked and came around to score on a pair of groundouts.

"He really seemed to get stronger as the game went on," Bell said.

Hancox has 71 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings and is 5-0 on the season. In Tuesday's 10-4 loss to East Lake, Hancox also led off a game with a home run for the fourth time this season.

REVENGE: Hudson is one of the few teams that has had any success against Land O'Lakes' Thompson this season, scoring five runs off him on March 14. And Cobras coach Jack Ledbetter thinks Thompson remembered that when the teams met again Tuesday.

"He definitely had better breaking stuff," Ledbetter said. "Yeah, I think he kind of took (the last game personally). This time, he had a no-hitter going into the fifth; you could tell he was a little upset when it was broken up."

Land O'Lakes went on to win 11-1 as Thompson struck out 12.

"The consolation is, that's a future major leaguer there," Ledbetter said.

GIVING BACK: Ledbetter is extremely proud of his team, but just not for what they have done in its games this year.

Rather, he is happiest about what they have done on the weekends: volunteering with the Challenger Division of Shady Hills Little League.

Ledbetter said 14 of his varsity players and many of his junior varsity players have volunteered three hours each this season in the league, which gives handicapped children a chance to play baseball. Ledbetter said some of his kids were reserved about the task initially, but many ended up going back multiple times.

Ledbetter cited JV players Brian Strawser, Jared Lorentson and Joe Keshock as being the most devoted to helping the kids in the league, who range in age from 5-17.

"I'm very proud of my team," Ledbetter said. "I think we all take a lot for granted and I think that's the value of participating in something like this. I worried when I first committed to this that I'd get a low turnout, but it's been absolutely the opposite. I think this showed the kids there are different ways of winning in baseball."

NOT THIS TIME: Gulf was nearly caught napping by a determined Wesley Chapel team March 31, escaping with a 3-2 win. In the rematch Tuesday, they did not make the same mistake.

Behind Mike Stanzione's homer and five RBI, Dave Pirman's 3-for-4 game and another solid starting effort by John Wirick, the Bucs won 13-4 in their third meeting with the Wildcats.

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