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Dragons move to within win of final four

Five East Bay errors help Jefferson advance to the region final with a 9-3 victory.

By SCOTT PURKS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2001


GIBSONTON -- Jefferson's up-and-down run through the playoffs -- which has included a region victory over No. 1-ranked Dunedin and a district final loss to sub-.500 Leto -- continued Friday at East Bay.

Yes, Jefferson won 9-3, but Dragons coach Pop Cuesta said he believed his troops could have played better.

"We made some nice plays, but then we had some letdowns," Cuesta said. "I don't know. We play great against the highly ranked teams, but then we struggle in the games we're supposed to be favored in.

"But hey, I'm happy. We won, and we're moving on. Just one more win, and we get to state."

That victory will have to come in Tuesday's Class 4A, Region 3 final at Clearwater, which defeated Dixie Hollins 8-6.

East Bay, meanwhile, finished 10-18 but with one of the most encouraging finishes to a season in a long time.

"Now the kids have a taste in their mouths of what this is like. And hopefully, that will carry over in the years to come," East Bay coach Bill Leiby said. "I think we might have been a little tight tonight because we're just not used to these situations.

"When you're not used to playing in a situation like this, it can get to you."

Leiby pointed specifically to the Indians' five errors, which led to five Jefferson runs.

The Dragons (18-10) scored first when cleanup hitter Javier Fiallo hit a solo homer over the leftfield fence -- a shot that Cuesta said gave his team a needed spark.

"I was afraid of a letdown (after Jefferson defeated Dunedin 7-3 on Tuesday), but that (home run) really got us pumped up and made me feel better," he said. "Sometimes, you need something like that to get you going."

Jefferson then scored at least two runs in three of the next four innings while Fiallo was solid on the mound, scattering six hits in six innings.

Add in a couple of Dragon defensive gems, most notably two double plays turned by second baseman Julio Pacheco and shortstop Santy Garcia, and Jefferson put itself one victory from the final four, a place Cuesta has been only one other time (1985) in his 30 years of coaching.

"We'll have (ace Jason Weintraub) throwing on Tuesday, and he should give us a good chance," Cuesta said. "Weintraub has proven he can beat anybody (including Dunedin and highly touted Armwood in the district semifinal)."

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