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Unlikely teams set to face off in region semis

By FRANK PASTOR

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2001


TAMPA -- You always want to win your last game.

That was the message East Bay coach Bill Leiby delivered to his players after a loss to Riverview in last season's district semifinals.

East Bay, seeded second, had squandered its best opportunity in several years to advance to the state playoffs, a summit the Indians had not reached since 1978.

Leiby repeated the message this season. He hung reminders in the dugout. In time, his players came to grasp its full meaning.

"When you say your last game," Leiby said, "they know that's the state final."

Few would expect a team that entered the playoffs 9-16 to contend for a state title. But then again, the '78 East Bay team that advanced to the state final won a grand total of six -- yes, six -- games.

Leiby, 26, used the example to motivate his team before Tuesday's region quarterfinal at Northeast.

"Before we left, we told them that they're 0-0 and it's the start of a new season," the second-year coach said. "The records are thrown out once you get to regionals because anybody can be beat."

Need proof?

East Bay, which lost nine games by one run, most in the seventh inning, escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the seventh to preserve a 4-2 victory over Northeast.

And Dunedin, ranked first in Class 4A and sixth in the country by Baseball America, was pounded for 12 hits in a 7-3 loss to Jefferson, which lost to sub-.500 Leto in its district final.

East Bay (10-16) and Jefferson (17-10) will meet in the region semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at East Bay.

Leiby, Jefferson coach Pop Cuesta and their players might be the only people on the planet who expected the matchup.

"The thought crossed our mind that we would face Jefferson after we won because (Jason) Weintraub is a heck of a pitcher," Leiby said.

Weintraub, a South Florida signee, scattered 10 hits over seven innings in the win over Dunedin. But East Bay expects to face the Dragons' No. 2 pitcher, Javy Fiallo (6-1). East Bay will counter with Ryan VanAlstyne (3-3) or Donald Noriega (3-6), who combined to defeat Northeast.

The meeting will be the first between the teams since last season's preseason tournament, when Jefferson edged East Bay 4-3.

Jefferson, with 15 state playoff appearances to East Bay's one, appears to be the favorite. But Leiby said he is conceding nothing.

"Once you get to this point in the year, anything happens," he said. "And the team that's hot is going to win."

Friday's region baseball games

All games at 7:30 unless noted.

CLASS 6A, REGION 2: Martin County (19-12) at Durant (20-6)

THE SKINNY: The Cougars have had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, winning the district title last week and beating Sarasota Riverview 6-5 in the regional opener Tuesday. That doesn't bode well for visiting Martin County.

CLASS 5A, REGION 2: Plant City (11-15) at Sanford Seminole (24-9)

THE SKINNY: The Raiders are in the regional playoffs for the first time since 1968. And so far, they've made the most of it, beating Kissimmee Osceola 7-0 on Tuesday. Plant City could be in trouble tonight, however, because the Raiders' ace, Jeff Osborne, won't be starting.

CLASS 4A, REGION 3: Jefferson (17-10) at East Bay (10-16)

THE SKINNY: This might be the most unlikely tournament pairing in the state. The kicker is the winner has a strong chance to make the final four. Jefferson, which defeated No. 1-ranked Dunedin 7-3 on Tuesday, is favored.

CLASS 3A, REGION 3: Tampa Catholic (23-5) at Lemon Bay (22-9)

THE SKINNY: Anthony Moscato threw a no-hitter in Tuesday's 5-0 victory over Frostproof, and the Crusaders have a couple of strong arms behind him. Look for freshman Charles Cleveland, who beat Jesuit 6-3 in the district final, to get the start.

CLASS A, REGION 3: Seminole Pres. (22-7) at Bradenton Chr. (20-5), 4, Temple Heights (4-14) at Evangelical (9-12)

THE SKINNY: This is a case of the expected and the unexpected. Everyone expected Seminole Presbyterian to make run at a state title. No one expected Temple Heights to get past the regional opener.

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