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Country Day earns its second title

By FRANK PASTOR

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001


TAMPA -- Jacksonville Arlington Country Day coach Jack Spencer looked across the Legends Field diamond Tuesday before his team's Class A title game against Miami Archbishop Carroll, and he saw a mirror image. Carroll coach Lazaro Llanes looked across the same field and saw what he hopes his program will become.

Sure, Country Day beat the Bulldogs 10-8 to claim its second consecutive state title. But the biggest thing for Carroll (24-12) was that it was even there. The second-biggest thing is it appears on track to return many more times.

Three years ago, baseball didn't exist at Carroll. Tuesday, the group of juniors and sophomores made its first state final appearance. A story very familiar to Spencer.

Six years ago, Country Day didn't exist. The baseball program is 5 years old and already has two state semifinal appearances and two state titles.

"They remind me a lot of our first-year club," Spencer said. "They came and battled and battled, and they would not be denied anything."

What they were denied was the state title. That was primarily due to a six-run fifth inning that saw Country Day (23-8) send nine batters to the plate and score six runs to take a 10-3 lead.

Carroll came back in the bottom of the inning with two runs. In the seventh, it scored three runs and brought the tying run to the plate twice. But Donald Brickle got a double play and a strikeout to end it. KING'S ACADEMY 2, P.K. YONGE 1: Aaron Verrett expected another off-speed pitch. He had seen three from Gainesville P.K. Yonge's Flint Wipke and fallen behind 1-2. But Wipke's fourth offering was a fastball, and Verrett banged it into centerfield to drive home the winning run in the sixth inning as West Palm Beach King's Academy won the Class 2A title. "It surprised me," Verrett said. "I thought I was going to get all junk. I knew I had to hit it."

King's (30-4) scored one run in the fifth and another in the sixth to erase a 1-0 deficit and claim its second state title in 10 years. The Lions won the Class A title in 1992.

P.K. Yonge (27-6), appearing in its first state final, committed four errors to waste Wipke's four-hitter. The senior right-hander struck out eight and allowed no earned runs.

"He threw well enough to win tonight, and he deserved the victory," P.K. Yonge coach Todd Gray said.

King's got good pitching for a second consecutive game. One day after Gator Brooks' one-hitter downed Tallahassee North Florida Christian, Matt Terrill, Jared Caldwell and Brooks combined to limit P.K. Yonge to five hits and one walk.

"We have four or five guys, and whatever it took, that's who we were going to throw," King's coach Wayne Sewell said.

P.K. Yonge took a 1-0 lead on Wipke's RBI double in the fourth. King's scored an unearned run in the fifth, setting the stage for Verrett's game-winning hit.

Brooks reached on an error, stole second and moved to third on Braedyn Pruitt's groundout. With two outs, Verrett bounced Wipke's fastball back through the box, scoring Brooks.

Today's games

CLASS 4A: Daytona Beach Seabreeze (26-5) vs. Cape Coral (25-6), 5

PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS: Seabreeze -- Steven Will, senior left-hander (7-0, 2.55 ERA) or Jason Cavanaugh, junior left-hander (8-2, 1.11 ERA). Cape Coral -- Jason Fletcher, senior right-hander (12-1, 90 innings, 1.78 ERA, 126 strikeouts).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Seabreeze -- Beat Bartow 8-7, Gainesville Eastside 10-0 and Palatka 8-1. Cape Coral -- Beat Okeechobee 3-2, West Palm Beach Forest Hill 3-2 and Key West 6-2.

THE X-FACTORS: Seabreeze -- Junior outfielder Randy Pruitt has been dynamite at the top of the order with a .466 average and 34 runs. Cape Coral -- Sophomore Jake Stevens has a team-best five home runs and 25 RBI, and the left-hander is 7-2 with 83 strikeouts in 72 innings.

THE SKINNY: While they have nearly identical records and both have played quality schedules, No. 3-ranked Seabreeze is favored over No. 9 Cape Coral. The Sandcrabs have state tournament experience, having lost in the semifinals two years ago, and their five losses are by a combined six runs. Cape Coral hadn't won a regional playoff game until this season.

* * *

Clearwater (16-13) vs. Tallahassee Godby (29-4), 8

PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS: Clearwater -- Jason Costello, senior left-hander (7-3, 812/3 innings, 1.63 ERA, 97 strikeouts). Godby -- Darren Newlin, senior right-hander (12-1, 811/3 innings, 0.77 ERA 93 strikeouts).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Clearwater -- Beat Leto 12-0, Dixie Hollins 8-6 and Jefferson 4-3. Godby -- Beat Pensacola Pine Forest 7-1, Fernandina Beach 5-4 and Live Oak Suwannee 3-1.

THE X-FACTORS: Clearwater -- Senior catcher Judd Loveland is the biggest stick in the lineup (.350, 14 extra-base hits) and a top-notch receiver. Godby -- Junior shortstop Alex Fonseca is batting .489 with 47 runs, 24 RBI and 5 homers.

THE SKINNY: The 4A final four has three ranked teams with a combined 15 losses and 13-loss Clearwater. Costello, an SPJC signee, has been solid all season and superb lately, and the Tornadoes' chances hinge primarily on him. The 6-foot-4 left-hander isn't overpowering but mixes several pitches and keeps the ball down. No. 5 Godby lost its district final to Pace but quickly regrouped. The Cougars and Tornadoes are the only district runners-up still playing.

* * *

CLASS 3A: Tampa Catholic (25-5) vs. Marianna (28-5), 1

PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS: TC -- Charles Cleveland, freshman right-hander, (5-0). Marianna -- Alan Horne, senior right-hander, (9-1, 1 save, 742/3 innings, 0.47 ERA, 143 strikeouts).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: TC -- Beat Frostproof 5-0, Englewood Lemon Bay 4-2 and Avon Park 5-4. Marianna -- Beat Perry Taylor County 6-1, Callahan West Nassau 16-1 and Jacksonville Bolles 2-1.

THE X-FACTORS: TC -- First baseman Chad Leon has been phenomenal, batting .462 with eight home runs and 40 RBI. Marianna -- As a sophomore in 1999, Horne, a 6-foot-4 Mississippi signee, helped pitch Marianna to the state title. He'll get help from senior right-hander Jeff Mathis, who is 11-1 with a 0.95 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 662/3 innings and, by the way, is batting .518 with 10 home runs.

THE SKINNY: Both teams needed extra innings to squeak through their regional finals, with No. 7 TC going 12 against Avon Park and No. 6 Marianna needing eight against No. 2 Bolles. This is the Bulldogs' fourth consecutive trip to Legends Field, and they are riding a 17-game winning streak. Mathis pitched a complete-game five-hitter in last year's 2-1 semifinal loss to Eustis. The mound matchup looks like advantage Marianna, but Cleveland threw 11 innings in the regional playoffs, allowing one earned run.

* * *

Miami Gulliver Prep (21-11) vs. Orlando Bishop Moore (26-7), 10

PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS: Gulliver -- Javier Arteaga, senior right-hander (7-3, 561/3 innings, 2.98 ERA, 97 strikeouts). Bishop Moore -- Matt Rhodes, senior right-hander (9-4, 2.10 ERA), or John Dembroski, junior left-hander (4-0, 1.70 ERA).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Gulliver -- Beat Plantation American Heritage 5-1, Fort Pierce Westwood 3-1 and Fort Lauderdale Westminster 8-2. Bishop Moore -- Beat Umatilla 8-0, Keystone Heights 3-0 and Eustis 4-0.

THE X-FACTORS: Gulliver -- Senior shortstop Paco Figueroa is batting .427 with 10 homers, 23 RBI and 45 runs. Bishop Moore -- Senior infielder-pitcher Greg Dini is batting .448 with 8 homers and 30 RBI.

THE SKINNY: Unranked Gulliver Prep, the state runner-up in 1998 and a semifinalist last year, had a stretch this season where it lost four in a row and another where it lost five of nine. No. 5 Bishop Moore lost state semifinals in 1997 and '98. It hasn't allowed a run since the district tournament and beat defending state champion Eustis in the regional final. -- Compiled by Pete Young.

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