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Leopards home in on post-season play

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


Such is the complexity of the system that determines playoff pairings that Hernando, despite a 5-4 record, has a chance to host a first-round game next week.

What's crazier is that in some scenarios, the Leopards can help their cause by losing at Tavares on Friday night.

How the playoff spots are sorted out is a long story, and Hernando has only a minor role. But the outcome will shape the Leopards' post-season. There's a major difference between traveling across the state to open the playoffs at District 4 champion Titusville Astronaut and opening at home against a district runner-up or at-large team.

What it comes down to is this: Crystal River and Tampa Jefferson are neck-and-neck for the region's top seed, which carries with it home-field advantage for the first three games.

Both teams are 8-1 and face weak opponents Friday. Since Crystal River and Tampa Jefferson didn't play this year, the next tie-breaker is strength of schedule, and both teams' opponents have combined for 40 wins.

There are eight games that factor Friday, including Hernando, which can contribute to Crystal River's strength of schedule with a win.

The Leopards want Jefferson to be the region's top seed, because that would give Hernando a home game.

The Leopards' best strategy is to win and root for the teams that can boost Jefferson's strength of schedule -- Tampa Jesuit, Pasco, Zephyrhills and Hudson.

If those four squads provide as many or more victories Friday as Hernando, Citrus, Springstead and Belleview, then Hernando will play host to a post-season game.

If, however, they don't, then Crystal River will be in the drivers seat for the region's No. 1 seed.

That is the best-case scenario for the Pirates for a couple of reasons:

No. 1 being home-field advantage for three games.

Secondly, it means the Pirates most likely would play host to 5-4 Tampa Robinson rather than 8-1 Tampa Jesuit. In either case, all the guesswork is enough to drive a coach crazy.

"Yeah, it is," Crystal River coach Jere DeFoor said. "I hate to say who we'll play. All I know is we are at home on Nov. 17."

Another factor for the Pirates staff is the time lost during all this waiting. The FHSAA will release its parings at 5:30 p.m. on Sunshine Network and its website (www.fhsaa.org).

"We used to know after the 10th week," DeFoor said. "Now we won't know until Sunday.

"Normally, we'd like to be able to start preparing on Saturday and Sunday," he said.

- Staff Writer Carey Freeman contributed to this report.

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