By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 19, 2001
TAMPA -- All but two of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas' players dyed their hair the week before the Class 5A semifinal against Lakeland.
Call it blond ambition, if you like. Whatever it was, it was enough to get the Raiders to the state final. Pinch-hitter Steven Encinosa's chopper to second in the bottom of the seventh drove home the winning run as Aquinas defeated Lakeland 2-1 Friday at Legends Field.
The Raiders (30-4) won their only state title in 1995.
"They've been doing it all year," Aquinas first-year coach Robert Lawson said. "They've got a lot of heart, a lot of character, and they find a way to get it done."
Lakeland's five titles tie for seventh-most in state history. But the Dreadnaughts, whose most recent title came in 1959, will have to wait another year to pursue their next.
Lakeland (28-3) tied the game on J.D. Clyatt's RBI single in the fifth and had its best chance to win after Mitch Hurley doubled to lead off the seventh.
But Andrew Britt's bunt failed to advance Hurley, and Aaron Clone and Clyatt grounded out. Aquinas converted on its final scoring chance. With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Chris Munn reached on second baseman Jared Williams' error. Jimmy Bacon followed with a single to rightfield, moving Munn to third.
That set the stage for Encinosa, who pinch-hit for Robert Rivera. Down 0-2, chopped one to Williams, who mishandled the ball as Munn scored the winning run.