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Leopards eye Saddlebrook

By BRANT JAMES and CAREY FREEMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 24, 2000


The Hernando High boys golf team has been too talented to be beaten most of this season, and too young to care when it was.

The 16-2 Leopards are confident they will be among the top four squad's in today's Class A, District 5 Tournament at Scotland Yards in Dade City, advancing to regional play Oct. 30 at World Woods.

Hernando enters with a tinge of humility, however, after a 17-stroke thrashing by district powerhouse Saddlebrook last Tuesday.

For coach Pete Lahey, who has two freshmen among his top three players, that's not entirely a bad thing.

"When they saw Saddlebrook the second time, they were kind of like, "Whoa'," Lahey said.

"I think it may be kind of good they thumped us pretty good. I think it was a wake-up call a little bit," he said. "But we think we can play better."

Hernando split its season series with Saddlebrook, beating one of its less-experienced teams by 11 strokes on Sept. 14, before a 150-167 loss to the private school's top squad at Saddlebrook.

Hernando's players feel a lack of proper warm-up time had something to do with the loss.

Hernando expected to get a peek at the district's other power, 18-1-1 Zephyrhills, when the Bulldogs signed on late to make the Saddlebrook date a trimatch, but the school had to withdraw to play in the Sunshine Athletic Conference tourney.

It was worth their while.

Zephyrhills' Mark Dunn was the SAC medalist, winning with a 79 (over 18 holes) and edging teammate Chris Black and River Ridge's Kevin O'Dell by three strokes as the Bulldogs won the title by 10 strokes.

"That would have been pretty interesting," Lahey said of the abortive trimatch.

Today should be.

Consistency throughout the lineup is crucial in districts, and Hernando has three players -- junior Matt Johnson, and freshmen Fred Farmer and Keegan Ledford -- leading the team with a 38 scoring average.

Lahey knows he needs a fourth player to emerge if Hernando is to earn the top-four spot he thinks it deserves.

"You're not going to do it with just one or two shooting well," Lahey said.

An added challenge will be endurance.

Regular-season matches are played over nine holes, but districts and regionals are 18-hole, all-day marathons.

Lahey has seen enough out of his team to expect all will work out.

"I think we'll make it," he said. "They have the confidence to go out and shoot a good score. I told them to play their games on a good course and all else falls into place."

Lecanto coach Chuck Holestein, whose team came up 14-strokes shy of champion Hernando at the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference tourney, is hoping for the same thing, and isn't ruling out a possible title.

"I think it's possible, but we'll have to go out and have some great rounds," Holestein said. "Everyone has got to play below their average for it to happen.

"We went down and played a practice round (Wednesday) and (the course) was in pretty good shape," he said. "It's not real hard, and I think it will be pretty good for the kids. It looked pretty fair. There was some trouble, but not a whole lot."

One area where Holestein expects to focus much of his attention is in the individual championship, where 1998 GCAC champ and senior Andy Adolffson will attempt to win his first individual district title.

One of the area's steadier golfers, Adolffson is among a large group of contenders that includes at least three players from Hernando and Saddlebrook, respectively.

"He's very confident and he's playing well," Holestein said. "I look for him to play very well.

"I think he's looking to move on and play in college, and this is a great opportunity to at least finish in top one or two score wise.

"But (Hernando) is very strong," Holestein said. "Any one of the three Hernando kids or the three kids from Saddlebrook could win it. There really is no clear-cut favorite."

- Times staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.

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