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Holiday Senior Baseball looks to make history

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 14, 2000


In 1998, the Marlins, Holiday's Senior Division entry in the Little League Tournament of Champions, made it to the final before losing 8-2 to East Lake, a historic game of sorts considering no Holiday team had gone any farther.

Monday night, this year's Major Baseball entry from Holiday tried to best the '98 team's accomplishment.

Thanks to its 7-6 win over Dunedin American, the Devil Rays played in the Majors championship game Tuesday night against Largo American and tried to bring a first-ever Tournament of Champions title back to Holiday.

"I don't think any Holiday (Majors) team has ever gone this far," coach Harold Shaffer said.

Shaffer coaches what he thinks might be the cream of Pasco County's westside Little League crop. The team went 28-7, boasts a pair of powerful pitchers in Tony Shaffer and Robby Robinson and has been the Little League equivalent of Zephyrhills' high school team -- smashing homer after homer over the fences at Holiday.

"They are awesome," Shaffer said. "Between Robby and Tony's pitching and hitting ... Robby has nine home runs -- and those are over-the-fence homers -- Tony has seven and Alton Voss has four. They can all hit."

Monday, in their win over Dunedin American, the Devil Rays pulled off a rare no-hitter-yet-allow-six-runs outing as Shaffer and Robinson combined to keep the opponent hitless.

But Dunedin American was not without its baserunners. It scored two runs in the first inning as a pair of walks eventually scored on an error by Robinson, who started at catcher.

Holiday rallied for four runs in the bottom of the second as Matt McDermott got the first Devil Rays hit (an RBI single) and Jonny Taylor added a two-run single to make it 4-2.

Thanks to Shaffer's wildness, Dunedin pulled within 4-3 in the third as a run scored on a wild pitch. Then it scored three runs in the fourth to take a 6-4 lead. Shaffer, a 5-foot-11 lefty, settled down, though, and along with Robinson did not allow another Dunedin player to score. That left things in the offense's hands. In the bottom of the fourth, Robinson singled in Voss to make it 6-5. After a scoreless fifth, the Devil Rays went into their last at-bat (the Majors play only six innings) down a run.

Not for long. Ten-year-old Tim Anderson started the final rally with a triple and scored on Taylor's second hit to tie the game. After Robinson reached on an error, Mark Anderson ripped a hit to rightfield that was misplayed, and Taylor streaked home with the winning run.

"It was an exciting finish," said coach Shaffer, who, along with assistants Gary Steiner, John Previte and Tom McDermott, also coach the Holiday Juniors team.

The finish was typical of Holiday's season. The Devil Rays were just 6-5 heading into a midseason tournament, and making the final of that tournament seemed to ignite the team to a 22-2 record since.

"We used the first half as nothing but training," Shaffer said.

"Each kid would field 100 grounders and 30 fly balls. That's why this team does not make many errors. I remember in that tournament we had a 9-year-old (Andrew Steiner) save a game when he caught a fly ball, and a 10-year-old (Steven Ramsey) do the same in another game."

The power hitting, along with the exceptional defense, made Shaffer and Robinson even more effective on the mound. In five innings against Dunedin American, Shaffer struck out 12 while Robinson whiffed two in his inning of work.

For the season, Robinson is 16-3 while Shaffer is 8-1, and four other pitchers have wins. There have been four no-hitters -- one each by Shaffer and Robinson, a six-pitcher combined effort at the midseason tourney and Monday's combined effort.

"Those two are probably the best pitchers around," coach Shaffer said. "Combined, they have over 300 strikeouts and throw in the 60s. High school coaches were watching them Monday (the two probably will attend Mitchell)."

Shaffer said he was optimistic about his team's chances Tuesday night.

"With our pitching and hitting and defense, we have a pretty good all-around team," he said.

SOFTBALL DONE: The West Pasco Senior softball team bowed out of the Tournament of Champions with a 15-5 semifinal loss to East Lake on Monday night.

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