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Bears upbeat for tourney despite mark

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 24, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- Central is not a winning team, not an especially gifted team and not given any serious hope of a deep post-season run.

For all the 13-14 Bears lack, they are right where they want to be.

At 5-3 in Class 4A, District 6 and seeded second as its tournament begins today with the play-in game between fourth-seeded Hernando (3-5) and No. 5 Zephyrhills (1-7), Central is in the same pretty position as the past two seasons. The beauty of a four-team district (or a five-team one if you finish above the bottom two spots) is win once and your squad is in the regionals.

"At the start of this season, our goal was to finish one, two or three and we got two, so that mission is accomplished," Bears coach Gary Buel said. "You don't want to have to deal with that play-in game."

With Patrick Ryan on the mound, Central is pretty confident its season will continue -- even as it faces Lecanto (3-5) and ace Jason Metz 4 p.m. Wednesday at Hernando High School. Metz beat Central 2-0 on March 15, then absorbed a 5-4 loss from the Bears on March 29.

"That's two pretty evenly-matched teams with good pitchers on the mound," Buel said. "They are playing hard and well, and they're in every ballgame."

Ryan has no doubt he will pitch his team into another level of the post-season.

"I'm definitely confident," Ryan said.

Hernando coach Tim Sims wishes he could say the same.

"For the first time maybe in a long time, I have no feel for it," Sims said. "I think we're capable of playing well, but it's hit or miss."

Sims wanted a hot last week of the regular season to start momentum for its play-in game, but the Leopards had those hopes dashed when five players (four starters) -- Jason Dunn, Nick Westbrook, Ozzie Whitten, Stan Tarkowski and Brad Wyatt -- did not attend school on Friday, ostensibly because it was the anniversary of the Columbine shooting.

The result: Sims sat all five and Hernando (13-14, 3-5) lost 17-0 to Crystal River.

"I think it was just a case of kids skipping school," Sims said. "I told them if their parents were so concerned, they should have called their administrators instead."

The Leopards were going to be left with a tough tourney task anyway, having to win three days in a row to take the district tourney. Sims said his team is approaching it as a two-win scenario, however.

"We've been telling them we need to worry about winning on back-to-back days," he said. "If we're fortunate enough to get to the third game, we'll worry about that then."

Sims is worrying about Zephyrhills first, especially since the Leopards likely will have to contend with Danny Wardell not only as a hitter, but as a pitcher.

"I wouldn't be really surprised if either us or Zephyrhills was able to string a couple of wins together," Sims said.

Buel agrees. "Hernando has enough pitching where they can win three straight. They are very capable of winning three games from the four spot."

DISTRICT BASEBALL TOURNAMENTS

CLASS 4A-6

WHERE: Emerson Field, Hernando High School.

SCHEDULE: Today -- No. 4 Hernando (3-5) vs. No. 5 Zephyrhills (1-7), 7 p.m. Wednesday -- No. 2 Central (5-3) vs. No. 3 Lecanto (3-5), 4 p.m.; Hernando-Zephyrhills winner vs. No. 1 Pasco (7-1), 7. Thursday -- Final, 7 p.m.

TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Hernando. A horrific start plunged the Leopards into such a sinkhole only a major tournament performance can save their season. Hernando has plenty of weapons, including senior center fielder Dee Brown, and solid pitching in Jason Dunn, Brad Wyatt and company. The Leopards will be scary if they can catch and throw the ball.

POTENTIAL SLEEPER: Central. Is it really fair to call the 13-14 Bears a sleeper? Considering their meager offensive weapons, yes. Considering all they need is a win from ace Patrick Ryan, one of the area's best pitchers, to qualify for regionals and the answer is no.

PLAYERS WORTH PRICE OF ADMISSION: Brown (11 home runs) loves the big stage, and he doesn't want his season to end here, especially after the Leopards let eventual state champion Eustis wriggle through their gloves last season in the region semifinal. Big power, big heart, big plays are expected from him. Lecanto's Jason Metz has become a stopper, and Pasco's Lee Cruz was a big part of an 11-game win streak. Zephyrhills' Danny Wardell could keep the Bulldogs competitive with his power stroke and pitching. His face-to-face duel with Brown could become a home run derby.

DID YOU KNOW? Central has advanced to the district final -- and therefore the regionals -- each of the last two seasons.

CLASS 4A-9

WHERE: Englebert Complex, Dunedin.

SCHEDULE: Today -- No. 3 Clearwater (6-4) vs. No. 6 Springstead (0-10), 5 p.m.; No. 4 Hudson (4-6) vs. No. 5 Tarpon Springs (2-8), 8. Wednesday -- No. 2 Land O'Lakes (8-2) vs. Clearwater-Springstead winner, 5 p.m.; No. 1 Dunedin (10-0) vs. Hudson-Tarpon Springs winner, 8. Friday -- Final, 7 p.m.

TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Clearwater. What The Tornadoes need to prove is they can beat Land O'Lakes. Springstead is so bad, Clearwater coach Steve McKee should be able to hold in reserve whoever he wants to take the mound against the Gators.

POTENTIAL SLEEPER: Tarpon Springs. The Spongers showed signs of life in their spring tournament.

PLAYERS WORTH PRICE OF ADMISSION: Kenny Holmberg and Brian Dopirak, Dunedin. Take your pick: If you like raw power, Dopirak is a high school version of Mark McGwire. If you like someone who would chew through a titanium bat if it would help his team win, then Holmberg is your guy.

DID YOU KNOW? Despite playing its home games in big ballparks, Dunedin's Dopirak, Taylor McCormack, Cody O'Connell and Ryan Harvey have combined for 20 home runs.

-- BRANT JAMES and PETE YOUNG

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