By PETE YOUNG
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 5, 2001
The state champion Palm Harbor seniors will begin play in the four-team South Region tournament at 5 p.m. Monday in Toccoa, Ga., against Waynesville, N.C.
And never is its pitching staff likely to endure a more difficult test than it will this week. Palm Harbor coach John Petika made a phone call to Toccoa on Thursday and learned the field is 305 feet down the lines, 331 in the alleys and 350 to centerfield.
In a tournament of top-flight 15- and 16-year-olds wielding high-tech bats, that could mean home run derby.
However, Palm Harbor demonstrated it has a superior pitching staff in the state tournament, allowing less than half a run a game (two runs in five games). Cody Rainer (Clearwater Central Catholic) earned two complete-game wins, and Ryan Harvey (Dunedin) and Tyler Clippard (Mitchell) had complete-game wins. Brian DeGonzague (Palm Harbor University) had the only loss, 1-0 in eight innings.
The staff also has good balance: Rainer, Harvey and Clippard are right-handers, while DeGonzague and reliever John Petika are lefties.
"These guys know how to pitch," said coach Petika, who credited the work of assistants Frank Uzdavines and Pete Jimenez with the pitching staff. "They throw strikes and the defense plays well behind them."
Rainer, who has tossed five consecutive shutouts, including the 4-0 state championship win Wednesday against Lake Wales, will start the opener.
"He's just in the zone right now," Petika said.
At the plate, Harvey has been in the zone. Petika moved him to the top of the order for the past few games because opposing teams had stopped pitching to him.
Harvey had homered twice in the first game of the state tournament, tripled in the second and hit a three-run double in the third.
"He's on another planet," Petika said. "He's the best player I've ever seen."