By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 17, 2001
EAST LAKE -- For once, Zephyrhills coach Bob Hatfield thought his Bulldogs to be underdogs.
For starters, Tuesday's Sunshine Athletic Conference tournament was at Mitchell's home course, Crescent Oaks. The Mustangs had also beaten the Bulldogs in a preseason match here, then lost at Zephyrhills' home course by a stroke. Mitchell even had the best record in Pasco County.
So at home, knowing they had already humbled the defending SAC champions, how tough would the Mustangs be to beat?
Very tough indeed. But beaten they were, and by just seven strokes.
Zephyrhills won its fourth consecutive SAC crown Tuesday and its sixth title in eight years, scoring 322 to Mitchell's 329 and sweeping the Mustangs this season by a total of eight strokes. Once again Zephyrhills found the magic scores it needed to win, as No. 2 A.J. Blackstone survived going 5-over on the first six holes to shoot 1-under the rest of the way and finish with 79, and No. 5 J.J. Mine shot 85.
Add it up with No. 1 Mark Dunn's 76 and Kyle Pierson's 82, and the Bulldogs survived another challenge to their supremacy.
"It was a real thrill for me," Hatfield said, "and the difference was my boys played the back nine with patience and kept their poise. And Mitchell had it won, they really did, they outplayed us on the front nine. On the back nine it slipped away, and our guys just kept the ball in play and got it in."
Yet Mitchell posted the best individual scores of the day, as Tyler Clippard won the medalist honors with 74, and teammate Kyle Laux posted 75. "Their fourth and fifth guys won the tournament," Mitchell coach Tom Jessee said.
Zephyrhills (15-4, 8-0 in SAC) only needed to finish second to win a share of the title while Mitchell (15-1, 7-1 in SAC) had to win outright to share the title.