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Top teams await Bucs, Knights

By JOHN COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


Repeat after me:

Gulf baseball is going to the playoffs! River Ridge softball is going to the playoffs!

The Bucs have done it! They've ended a lifetime of district futility by finishing second and earning a regional playoff berth. The boys are in the state playoff series! Three wins from the final four! In unchartered and historic territory!

The Royal Knights have turned a great season into a hopeful post-season! A school record for wins! A district final appearance! A string of three consecutive district playoff losses begone!

Woooooohoooooooo! It's playoff time, baby!

Now, just forget about the following:

There is only one No. 1 softball team in the country. There is only one No. 1 baseball team in the country.

River Ridge and Gulf, respectively, get to play each tonight in the first round of the state playoffs.

* * *

And they call the post-season a reward for a job well done at the district tournament?

Let the prognostications for a pair of 10-run, mercy-rule games roll in. Go ahead and predict that Countryside's outstanding Crystal Crews no-hits the Royal Knights. Mock the local teams' chances.

That's one way of looking at it, and let's be honest -- the odds of being right on all counts are in your favor.

But there is a slim, slim, slim, slim chance you will be wrong. And that chance is all Gulf coach Shaun Wiemer and River Ridge coach Ernie Beck have to convince their kids the trip is worth it.

"What an opportunity," Wiemer said. "I mean, seriously. I just got done telling the kids they have nothing to lose. The kids are excited and ready to practice today. Their attitudes are great. I don't see any sense of intimidation."

Gulf's plan is simple: throw pitches at the Warhawks from every conceivable angle. Unsung junkballer David Pirman will start, and Wiemer said he'll have tall left-hander Joe Dan Fagan and herky-jerky sidewinder Kevin Campbell ready to go.

Three different pitchers, three distinct deliveries. "We're going to throw everything at them," Wiemer said.

It won't be easy.

River Ridge will start ace Christine Beck, but more important, the Knights will need to bring the same kind of defensive excellence as they did in a nine-inning loss to Palm Harbor U. in the district final. Beck only struck out one batter, but the team behind her was flawless.

If they can get a similar effort in the field, they will need a completely dissimilar effort at the plate. Crews is a two-time All-Suncoast Player of the Year, and for you softball aficionados, that's Monica Triner country. Hitting her is near impossible, and certainly more difficult than hitting PHU's Katie Dobson, which the Royal Knights couldn't do last week.

It won't be easy.

But the coaches will tell you there's a sliver of hope.

Maybe Nelson Rodriguez makes another diving catch like he did at districts, or Campbell throws another relief gem or Sidney Gibbs turns in an incredible at-bat.

Maybe Beck keeps Countryside off her pitches, and Adrienne Cicirello sparks the offense with a double or Stefani Simon connects on a Crews offering and it goes bye-bye.

Maybe USA Today and Baseball America and all the publications that choose to rank high school teams are asking themselves next week: Where is Gulf High? What's the River Ridge team nickname? How did they do it?

A slim hope? A pipe dream? Crazy?

Probably. But that's good enough for Wiemer and Beck.

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