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Clearwater doesn't want to stop now

By PETE YOUNG

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2001


Here's a partial list of items on the docket this week for teams with 13 or more losses: prepare for prom, mow the lawn, study for finals, hang out at the beach and read the newspaper account of the state tournament. Clearwater's agenda? Prepare to win a state title.

The 13-loss Tornadoes are the upset special of the state tournament, owners of the most defeats of any team in any classification. Class 4A Clearwater (19-13) is the No. 8 seed reaching the conference tournament final, the wild card advancing to the World Series.

At 8 p.m. Wednesday at Legends Field, the Tornadoes meet Tallahassee Godby in a state semifinal.

"We're loving it. It's awesome," said catcher Judd Loveland, who singled in the middle of a seventh-inning rally to beat Jefferson 4-3 in Tuesday's region final. "We're not paying any attention to our record."

And they have no plans to stop now. Coach Steve McKee is urging his team to think about what remains, not about what has been accomplished.

"We let them enjoy the moment for a day," said McKee, who is in his fourth year at Clearwater and first state tournament. "Then we told them, you can be in awe and just happy to be there or you can go in with a mission."

Godby is the only school besides Clearwater of the 24 in the tournament not to win its district. But the Cougars are formidable at 29-4 and ranked No. 5 in the 4A state poll.

However, after playing a rugged schedule against the likes of nationally ranked powers Seminole (twice) and Dunedin (thrice) as well as a March road trip to play perennial state power Fort Lauderdale Westminster, Clearwater won't be intimidated.

"Oh definitely our schedule will help us," said Loveland, who signed with Florida Community College-Jacksonville last week. "We had our ups and downs, but we played a hard schedule against nationally ranked teams. When we beat (state-ranked) Land O'Lakes (2-1 in the district semifinal), that's when we knew we could do it."

McKee has found a historical rallying point for his team. Last season, Jesuit (which was 10-12 at one point) entered the region playoffs 16-13, the same as Clearwater. Five games later, the Tigers were state champions.

"Winning streaks only matter in the playoffs," Loveland said. "Coach talked to us about Jesuit last year; how they did it and how we can do the same."

As far as the Tornadoes are concerned, the season started with the district playoffs. So they are "really" 5-1, with the lone loss being the only game they could afford to lose and not have their season terminated, the district final against Dunedin.

"What they've done is great," McKee said. "But there's more to do."

ALL-STAR GAME: Seminole shortstop Bryan Bass has been added to the North roster for the Florida Athletic Coaches Association All-Star Classic May 24-26 at Fireman's Field in Sebring.

He is the fourth Warhawk to be chosen along with John Killalea, Casey Kotchman and Bobby Wilson, who are members of the West team.

Bass was ruled ineligible over a residency issue after 10 games this season.

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