By PETE YOUNG and STEVE LEE
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- In the seventh inning of Friday's Class 4A, District 11 final at Northeast, the Vikings were on the edge of the cliff, clinging to life by one hand. In the eighth, they were down to their collective pinkies.
However, No. 1-seed Dixie Hollins couldn't capitalize on two prime opportunities to win, and Northeast rallied to capture the title 6-3 in 11 innings.
The Vikings will host a regional quarterfinal Tuesday against East Bay or Sebring while Dixie Hollins will travel to East Bay or Sebring.
Northeast (13-13) trailed 3-1 entering the top of the seventh. With one out, Rich Tribou (2-for-5, two RBI) singled and stole second. Pinch-hitter Dennis Smith singled to score Tribou, and designated hitter Ray Loeser (3-for-5, 2 doubles, 2 RBI) ripped a double into the gap to score pinch-runner Tyler Hiersche and tie it at 3.
The comeback seemed only to delay the inevitable as Dixie Hollins (15-10) put itself on the brink of victory in the bottom of the eighth.
Ryan Searage and Brandon Huskins led off with singles, chasing Northeast starter Shane Riggs (7 innings, 3 earned runs, 4 strikeouts, 1 walk). Searage and Huskins then stole third and second off reliever Nick Gusdal, and Joe Castagner lined a shot over the second baseman.
However, Northeast rightfielder Chris Corwin was playing shallow and made the running catch. And Searage stayed put at third.
After an intentional walk to load the bases, Gusdal induced a 4-6-3 double play, with first baseman Tommy Grobmyer's scoop culminating No. 2-seed Northeast's great escape.
"Things got a little iffy, but we've always got confidence," Loeser said. "We held together and pulled it out."
Northeast stroked four hits in the 11th, including an RBI double by Loeser and a two-run single by Jason Leonard (4-for-6), to finish things off.
Despite nine strong innings from Castagner (7 hits, 5 strikeouts, zero walks), Dixie came up short.
"Shane Riggs and Nick Gusdal, they pitched their tails off," Northeast coach Roman Johnson said. "Our kids played great. We stuck together as a team." -- PETE YOUNG
DUNEDIN -- Clearwater more than doubled its offensive output against rival Dunedin. But it was not nearly enough to prevent Dunedin from winning its second consecutive district title.
The Falcons, who beat Clearwater 8-2 and 12-2 during the regular season, took a 7-0 lead over the Tornadoes at the Englebert Complex then staved off a comeback in an 8-5 win for the title.
"We know against any team no lead is safe, especially against that club," Dunedin coach Tim Hilbert said. "We knew they weren't going to lay down."
Dunedin (25-2) hosts Jefferson at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Dunedin Stadium in the state playoffs while Clearwater (16-13) plays at Leto at 7:30 p.m.
The Falcons wasted little time in jumping out to a 7-0 lead.
In the first, leadoff batter Jeremy Bellotti tripled to right-centerfield and scored on Kenny Holmberg's single. Bellotti hit a two-run single, and Holmberg hit a two-run double in Dunedin's six-run second.
Bellotti finished with 2 hits, 2 RBI and 3 runs scored. Holmberg went 4-for-4 with three RBI and a run scored.
"The top of our lineup, those guys have pretty much done it all year," Hilbert said.
Dunedin starter Matt Cheek (7-0) pitched five innings for the win. The right-hander allowed two earned runs on three hits while striking out three and walking four.
Left-hander Chris Garrison lasted just just 11/3 innings for Clearwater. He allowed five earned runs on 4 hits, 3 walks and 3 wild pitches.
Trailing 7-0, Clearwater scored three runs with two outs in the top of the third. Ryan Graham hit a two-run single, and Holmberg's error on Matt Monier's grounder to shortstop allowed Mark Morris to score.
The Tornadoes cut it 8-5 in the sixth with two unearned runs. -- STEVE LEE