Leopards' season disappoints
By BRANT JAMES
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001
BROOKSVILLE -- Hernando's season-ending loss to Zephyrhills in the Class 4A, District 6 play-in game Tuesday was a lot like its season: early hope provided by Dee Brown, malaise, and a slow bleed.
The Leopards' 13-15 finish and first-round bowout at home to 11-18 Zephyrhills ended a season that never fulfilled its promise. A team loaded with talent, most of whose parts advanced to the regional semifinals the year before, looked timid, unsure and nervous.
"Did I expect some of our hitters to press the way they did, and there is no other way to say it because physically they are talented baseball players? Did I expect to be 13-15? No," Hernando coach Tim Sims said. "Did we earn it? Yes."
Hernando got the season it expected from Brown, the 2000 Hernando/Citrus Player of the Year who will play baseball and football for Central Florida next year. The senior, with basically no lineup protection, batted .489 with 12 home runs, 36 RBI, 7 doubles, a .978 slugging percentage, a .577 on-base percentage and stole 11 bases in 13 tries.
Hernando's next-best hitter was senior shortstop Drew Innes (.288), and senior first baseman Stephen Blanton, batting behind Brown, batted .276 (.364 last year) with 3 homers (six less than last year) and 26 RBI.
Jason Dunn batted .267 after batting .422 last year.
Dunn led Hernando with a 5-3 record, and a 3.24 earned-run average.
Sims wouldn't call his team underachieving, but he admitted he was disappointed.
"Any team that gets beat in districts will be disappointed," he said. "I am. Extremely. We had a good heart-to-heart talk, because a few of them have to learn, in the future, the "accountability' word. Society today wants to make excuses. Accountability ... Your job is to catch it, throw it, hit it, score runs and we're accountable."
He said he doubts he'll find an explanation.
"How can you explain it? I don't think you can," he said. "It's high school baseball and you're dealing with 16- to 18-year-olds and first and foremost you try to be consistent. And we were consistently inconsistent this year."
Hernando started the season 4-1, but lost seven of its next eight to assume the posture of its odd season.
The Leopards ultimately missed Chris Cole more than they expected. The loss of a .520 hitter behind Brown created an obvious void, but the Florida State first baseman was been missed behind the plate. Cole was adequate defensively, but experienced, a quality Hernando's three catchers -- Ben Bunn, Greg Shaw and Trevor Coleman -- lacked.
"I've always said in high school, you have to have a catcher," Sims said. "Coleman missed a year and a half from a football injury; Shaw, we tried to make a catcher; Bunn split time on JV last year. We knew this coming in, and I'm not knocking these kids.
"But with Dunn throwing and (J.T.) Fobell, the way he throws it and (Nick) Westbrook's breaking ball, I mean you have to have some innings behind the plate to get there. Will (Bunn) get there? He is a junior and has another year to get there and we'll see, but he never got to that level."
Just like the team.
"Baseball is a sport where you definitely, without a doubt, will fail a whole lot more times than you succeed," Sims said. "The hard part is, the seniors and team as a whole had to learn that this year and (Tuesday) might."
FINAL AT-BAT: It was hard to tell who was more nervous, Brown or stepfather Scotty Scrivens, who stood on the steps to the Emerson Field press box as his son took what was his final at-bat for Hernando in the sixth inning. Scrivens' anxiety heightened when Brown barely checked his swing on a 2-2 pitch, and a spike of anticipation was smothered by disappointment when a booming shot to centerfield was caught by Aaron Young.
Brown, who hit his 12th homer of the year -- Hernando's only hit against Danny Wardell in the 5-2 loss -- circled halfway around the bases before taking a seat on the bench for the final time.
If Brown, who was visibly downtrodden after the loss, was emotional about his final out, he wasn't giving many details.
"I was trying to help the team. I came up a couple inches short," he said. "Now I've got to keep moving on, not dwell on the past."
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