By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2001
NEW PORT RICHEY -- If baseball has jaded your soul, Friday night's Gulf-Ridgewood district final was the perfect antidote.
The Bucs and the Rams produced classic after classic in this week's Class 5A, District 9 tournament. Along the way they unseated the top two seeds to reach Friday's surprising all-Pasco County final -- a contest no less special.
But one team had to run out of magic, and it was Gulf in the bottom of the seventh with two outs, runners on the corners and the winning run at the plate as Ridgewood held on for a 6-4 district championship win at home.
The Rams' Dave Hancox notched the save, striking out a swinging Sal Torre with a high fastball to cap off a week neither will forget.
But only the No. 5 seed, Ridgewood (21-9), was smiling at the end, having won its first district title in a decade.
"It hasn't hit me yet," said shortstop Derek Kuryliw, who went 2-for-4 with 2 RBI. "It'll probably hit me on the way home.
"It seemed every week this season something went wrong for us, every week we'd lose a big game. But that just brought us together. That just made us stronger."
For third-seeded Gulf (15-15), a regional playoff meeting with Seminole, the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, awaits Tuesday.
"They were in it all the way until the end," Bucs coach Shaun Wiemer said. "They fought tooth and nail the whole way, but Ridgewood was just a few hits and a few less errors better than we were."
As for Seminole, Wiemer added: "We're ready."
Gulf took the early lead in the bottom of the third inning. Jay Aldridge singled, took second on a blown pickoff, stole third on a passed ball and was sent home by David Pirman's RBI-double. Kuryliw scored on a passed ball in the top of the fourth to tie it 1-1.
Nelson Rodriguez singled in the bottom of the fourth and took three bases on two bunts to score and give the Bucs a 2-1 lead. In the top of the fifth, Kuryliw knocked a 2-RBI double to the centerfield wall, scoring Mike Sentner and Hancox to make it 3-2 and give the Rams a lead they would not relinquish. Ridgewood hosts 5A-10 runner-up Countryside on Tuesday.
"The difference between being great and being good," Rams coach Larry Beets said, "is when you've given up on being good.
"We were in it to win it."