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Neal to start in region opener as Leopards save ace

Coach Tim Sims is banking on beating Citrus and having to play at Eustis.

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 2, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- No disrespect is intended, Hernando coach Tim Sims said, but he's saving his ace for the second round of the Class 3A, Region II playoffs.

That does not mean Jason Dunn, the Leopards' leader in wins, strikeouts and earned-run average, will not be used against Citrus tonight in the quarterfinals. Sims wants to make sure there is a second round for his 19-12 team.

Sims said the possibility of facing 22-8 Eustis on the road on Friday led to the decision to start senior John Neal. Eustis has lost at home only once this season, to nationally ranked Zephyrhills. Twice this season Eustis beat its first-round opponent, Williston, by 10-run margins.

"This is no disrespect to Citrus," Sims said. "It's just respect down the road. Some say you have to get there first, but to us, Friday is the homecoming dance and we want to have the date that brought us to the dance ready."

Sims said Neal, who did not begin pitching until late in the season after elbow surgery, will be limited to his customary 50 pitches tonight. Dunn, in relief, would be limited to 70-75 pitches, meaning he would be rested enough to start on Friday if Hernando gets that far.

"We'll let the game dictate it, and John's arm," Sims said. "It all depends on the feel of the game."

Hernando split its regular-season series with Citrus, losing 11-9 early in the season, then winning 8-0 when Brad Wyatt became the first freshman since at least 1961 to throw a no-hitter for the varsity.

Hernando got poor pitching in the first matchup, and an obviously strong effort in the second, but the common thread in each was run support. Hernando ended the regular season batting better than .330 as a team.

Senior catcher Chris Cole (.530) and junior centerfielder Dee Brown (.525, 15 home runs) are the most potent batters in a lineup with few weak links.

Dunn still may not be able to lend his substantial hitting abilities to the lineup, however. The junior, who is batting .420, is likely to have stitches removed from two cuts on his left hand either today or Wednesday.He suffered the injury on his non-pitching hand traversing a barbed-wire fence and did not bat in the district tournament.

"That's a big question mark," Sims said. "Having him back would help tremendously."

Hurricanes young but confident

In an ideal situation, Mike Taylor would like for his team to be a little more experienced heading into the game at Hernando

But this isn't an ideal situation.

The Hurricanes (10-16) have had one of their toughest seasons in years, losing six players who either quit or left the team because of injuries or suspensions.

Despite its unimpressive record, Taylor said all things considered, the Hurricanes should be commended for accomplishing what they have.

Citrus struggled late in the season with its hitting, but its bats came alive in Friday's loss to Dunnellon, in which the Hurricanes had 10 hits.

Citrus will start its ace, junior lefty Sam McLain. McLain is 5-6 this season, with a 1.71 ERA during the regular season. In the district semifinals, he pitched a complete game, earning a 1-0 win over Crystal River. He has been a varsity starter since his freshman season.

Bears enter with mixed feelings

Central High's players know when they have a chance to win: when ace Patrick Ryan pitches. They've had trouble when Ryan isn't on the mound or they're facing the other team's top pitcher

The Bears (13-15) therefore will have mixed feelings tonight in their first-round date with Dunnellon (25-4).

Ryan, who tossed a complete-game 5-4 victory over Pasco to launch the Bears into regional competition, will face Tigers ace Tommy Boss when the teams meet at 7:30 p.m. in Dunnellon.

Ryan is 8-5 with a 3.00 earned-run average in 15 games -- 12 starts -- this season. He has allowed 87 hits and struck out 81 batters in 81 2/3 innings.

The junior's presence adds stability to a Bears lineup dotted with underclassmen and junior varsity call-ups. It also might help salve the memory of a 16-0 shellacking by Hernando in the Class 3A, District 8 championship game.

"When we have Patrick on the mound, we play with a lot of confidence because we have confidence he'll keep us in the game," coach Gary Buel said.

Central did not play Dunnellon this season, but Buel said he has a sense of the Tigers because they were Gulf Coast Athletic Conference rivals until this season. Buel said he will try to filter information to his players without spooking them over Boss' 13-0 record.

"I tell them the guy is pretty good," Buel said. "I have to tell them this stuff."

Dunnellon played its 'worst game'

Dunnellon enters tonight's game coming off what coach Mike Payne calls "the worst game we've played this year.

The Tigers committed five errors and had to battle from a 9-6 deficit for a 10-9 win and their first district title since 1971.

Payne said he shoulders much of the blame for the team's district performance, saying the Tigers took infield practice just once last week because they were preparing for what they thought would be a curveball pitcher.

Dunnellon's 25 wins haven't come with just the pitching of Boss. The Tigers are hitting .350 as a team and their other pitchers also have contributed.

-- Antonya English contributed to this report.

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