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Gators turn to ace Patton once again

By STEVE LEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


LAND O'LAKES -- In last week's Class 4A, District 9 title run, Land O'Lakes' Ashley Patton pitched a three-hitter against Dunedin in the semifinals before holding Clearwater to one hit during the final three innings of the championship game.

Efforts like those have been the norm in Patton's four years at Land O'Lakes. Tonight, coach Jerry English is counting on his senior right-hander to come up with another gem as the Gators (17-9) host Leto at 7:30 in the Region 3 quarterfinals.

The Falcons (8-16) don't appear to present as much of a challenge as Clearwater, ranked seventh in the state poll last week, or Northeast, the likely host of the Land O'Lakes-Leto winner on Thursday.

Nevertheless, Leto made it to a district championship game and that's why English is taking no chances, selecting Patton (14-6) as his starter.

"I've pitched Ashley more (down the stretch) and she loves it," English said. "It's just like, "Give me the ball.' She's a competitor."

Patton, however, isn't the only Land O'Lakes player to shine in the post-season. Second baseman Erica Skillman has been the anchor of a solid infield and April Slate made a fine running catch in short rightfield against Dunedin with two runners on base.

"We've had to work hard to get where we are," English said of his team's first district title since 1996.

"Hopefully, it'll continue."

English figures his team needs to continue to play well on defense behind Patton. "We have to make the plays like we have in the past couple of weeks," he said, and score "about four or five runs."

While the Gators combined for just six runs in beating Dunedin 2-1 and Clearwater 4-3, they might have better luck against Leto. The Falcons lost 8-2 to Tampa Bay Tech in the 4A-10 championship game.

Land O'Lakes has plenty of offensive weapons in Patton (.419 batting average), Amber DeYoung (.393), Michelle Hausman (.361), Skillman (.320) Amanda Gulino (.292) and Slate (.290).

But even if those hitters struggle at the plate, the Gators proved in the district tournament they can score when their offense struggles.

Paton's fly ball and DeYoung's grounder were misplayed by Clearwater fielders, which led to the tying and go-ahead runs in the 4A-9 final.

And Jen Savage's two-run single in that game followed a pair of errors.

"I feel sorry for those young ladies, but we did take advantage of it," said English, adding that during the regular season "we've given up a run or two like that."

Perhaps with an eye on the next round, English feels pretty good about his team's chances of playing beyond tonight.

"Right now, we're just starting to gel," he said.

"It's all coming together."

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