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Gators left to wonder after loss

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- It wasn't the district final Cal Baisley had hoped to watch.

That's because the game the Land O'Lakes coach had wanted to watch wasn't possible: a third try at the No. 6-ranked team in the nation, Dunedin, in Friday's Class 4A, District 9 final at the Englebert Complex.

Instead, the title game featured Dunedin and Clearwater.

Dunedin held off Clearwater 8-5 to win the 4A-9 crown. Thus, Baisley was at Ridgewood that night, watching the Rams' thrilling 6-4 win over Gulf in the 5A-9 final.

Land O'Lakes' playoff hopes evaporated in a 2-1 semifinal loss to the Tornadoes on Wednesday, as everything seemed to go wrong for the Gators.

"It was a tough draw," Baisley said. "We have a lot of respect for Clearwater. Every time we've played them, it's come down to one run in the last inning.

"For some reason, they always saved their No. 1 pitcher (Jason Costello) for us, too. We faced him all three times."

But after winning 2-1 in 10 innings and 7-6 in the top of the seventh, Sunshine Athletic Conference champion Land O'Lakes was felled by a bizarre Clearwater play in the seventh.

"I call it a suicide hit-and-run," Baisley joked.

Baisley thought Clearwater was attempting a suicide squeeze, except batter Brandon Baker stuck his bat out and struck the ball as the runners took off and Mark Morris headed for home.

Baker's dribbler rocketed off of the hard clay infield and bounced to second baseman Greg Rosenthal, but by the time he fielded the ball, all runners were safe and Clearwater held a 2-1 lead.

"The batter was a lefty so I'm not sure if he saw the (suicide squeeze) signal," Baisley said. "That is, if that's what they were trying to do."

Land O'Lakes attempted a rally in the bottom of the seventh. Chip Whalen singled, but on Rosenthal's bunt he was called out at second. Baisley believed Whalen had made it safely.

"Of course, Jeff (Baisley) was up next, and he doubled," the coach said. "If Chip had been on, that could have been a run."

Things could also have been different earlier in the game if Victor Roldan's smash to centerfield with two runners on base had been anywhere else but in Englebert. Instead of a hit, the Clearwater centerfielder turned it into a fly-ball out with an awkward, diving catch.

"Any other park," Baisley said. "That's gone."

Instead, Brian Baisley was caught looking to end the game. Pitcher Rich Neste, who lit up Pasco County with a 9-0 record, took his first and only loss of the Gators' (23-5) otherwise fine season.

"All the little things went wrong," Baisley said. "When you play a team like them, you need the breaks.

"We didn't do what we had to."

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