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Season of promise ended early

Several Pinellas County teams had legitimate hopes of advancing to the final four. None of them made it.

By JOHN SCHWARB

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 10, 2001


Chuck Poetter admitted that, yes, there were quite a few tears shed last week after the last game.

The coach was referring to his Palm Harbor U. team, but he might as well have been speaking on behalf of several other county powers.

After a regular season that featured impressive achievements and encouraged tantalizing thoughts of state tournament berths, the collective post-season hopes for county softball teams fell with a distinct thud in the regional tournaments.

Despite a half-dozen area teams earning spots in the state polls during the season and one even rising to the top of a national poll, no Pinellas team lived to see action this week in Auburndale. Nor did a single squad even make it to Saturday's regional finals.

Where did it all go wrong? Or did it go wrong at all?

"Some days, you just don't have it. And in the playoffs, if you don't have it on that day, you're gone," Clearwater coach Brian Mont said.

"I think the county represented themselves pretty well, but it's different when you get into a one-game situation."

Still, area teams bowed out of the playoffs with alarming quickness and in a manner that belied regular-season results.

In the quarterfinals, three teams were handily shut out, and Clearwater, Northeast and St. Petersburg Catholic -- all state-ranked for much of the season -- dropped heartbreaking one-run decisions.

And then there were the early departures of PHU and Countryside, two teams that could have faced off for a trip to Auburndale.

Class 5A, Region 3 featured a half-dozen legitimate final four-caliber teams, but it seemed improbable that the Hurricanes and Cougars would not account for at least one of the regional final spots.

Neither survived the semifinals. PHU lost 3-0 to Sarasota in nine innings, failing to capitalize with runners on in every inning. Countryside lost 5-0 to a hungry Chamberlain team that plays today for its second state final berth in three years.

"For Countryside and Palm Harbor to lose on the same day is truly shocking. That's just, 'Whoa,"' said Countryside pitcher Crystal Crews, who saw a perfect pitching record and a perfect team record disappear at Bomber Stadium to the Chiefs.

Just two days before the district final, the Cougars rose to the top of the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll, completing a trifecta along with a No. 1 state ranking and the top spot in the Times Tampa Bay Top 10.

But in hindsight, Countryside was not the same team again after rising so high on paper. Through a district final and two regional games, the Cougars scored a total of five runs. And in the debacle against Chamberlain, it fell to 32-1 after giving up an uncharacteristic 10 hits and committing six errors.

"The timing wasn't the best," Countryside coach Scott Kitchen said. "I don't think we played well since we reached that. It may have been a distraction.

"We tried to tell them it wasn't going to win us any games."

Countryside's ouster was part of a larger bitter pill for the county. Its teams went a combined 1-6 against Hillsborough competition in the playoffs. Only Keswick Christian's 20-0 blasting of overmatched Bayshore Christian in Class A saved the 0-fer.

"This will be the one that sticks out in my mind," Crews said. "I won't forget it for a little while. No, I probably never will forget it."

She spoke of the Cougars' loss, but she could have been speaking for many other county mates.

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