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Birds of a different feather

High school baseball | State semifinals

Brandon vs. Dunedin: a tale of two diverse teams

It's Brandon vs. Dunedin.

Eagles vs. Falcons.

Hillsborough vs. Pinellas.

Hide the women and children!

Right? Hello? No?

Sigh. Okay, everyone let the women and children back out.

Wednesday's Class 5A state baseball semifinal may pit teams only 34 miles apart — heck, you don't even need to cross a bridge to get from one to the other — but the Falcons (23-6) and Eagles (25-6) have little in common other than this:

They are the hottest teams in Tampa Bay, playing their best ball when it matters most, culminating in a game that will land the victor in the state championship matchup.

Oh yeah, those team nicknames? Both are birds.

Looking for other similarities yields only a handful of differences that, nonetheless, offer much promise for Wednesday's semifinal.
Youth to be served?

Brandon starts seven sophomores, four of whom hit home runs in the region championship series.

Seven very talented sophomores who were one day expected to be in the state semifinals.

Just not this year.

It's a pretty remarkable story, but at this point, those seven starters have played 31 games, and that's enough to make them more junior than sophomore.

Dunedin, on the other hand, starts eight seniors.

Pressure? What pressure?

Despite the fact that its baseball program has played for a state title twice since 1990 and produced major-leaguers such as Jody Reed, Danny Graves and Chone Figgins, Brandon has flown under the radar.

Dunedin hasn't.

The Falcons are one of those lightning-rod programs, with intense rivalries everywhere and detractors around every concession-stand corner.

The fact that they haven't won a state title since 1964 despite having one of the best collections of talent (and just enough transfers to get folks worked up) every year has earned them a reputation as classic underachievers. Their 2002 team, ranked No. 3 in the country, was 32-0 and lost in the semifinals to Ridgewood — and fueled the fire.

Pressure? Probably a little.

Size doesn't matter, does it?

Dunedin has 18 players listed on its roster 6 feet or taller. The most imposing of the bunch, 6-5 shortstop Jake Rogers, is a draft prospect, and another, 6-3 pitcher Clay Kollenbaum, has been the Falcons' best player during the playoffs.

Brandon has just two players listed at 6 feet. In fact, two of the Eagles' best performers would fit in the back pocket of some of the Falcons — freshman pitcher Chase Sparkman and sophomore second baseman Derek Dungan are each 5-4 and about 130 pounds.

Best in the bay area

Dunedin coach Tom Hilbert says he doesn't see Wednesday's semifinal as a county vs. county thing.

But for fun, let us, because we think it makes a nifty little tiebreaker.

There seems to be little debate about which county (hint: starts with an H) had the best football season this school year.

And Pinellas County played basketball better in the winter.

Best of three, anyone?

John C. Cotey can be reached at (813) 909-4612 or johncotey@gmail.com.

Up is down

Brandon is young, but the old man of the group, junior catcher Mike Smith, has been crucial.

His home run gave Brandon the Saladino Tournament title, and after the Eagles fell behind against Winter Haven in the region championship series (after blowing a 6-0 lead), his second homer of the game tied it and eventually led to a win for another of the Eagle vets, senior pitcher Dan Trnka.

Dunedin is older, but freshman starter Casey Turgeon reached base seven of eight trips to the plate in the region title series, with a pair of doubles.

>>State baseball

Class 5A:
Brandon vs. Dunedin

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota

Admission: $8 per session

>>FAST FACTS

State baseball

Where: Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota

Directions: Coming from the north on I-75, exit at
University Parkway; go west on University to Tuttle; turn
left and head south on Tuttle; stadium is on the right at
12th and Tuttle.

Admission: $8 per session

Wednesday

Class 2A: North Florida Christian vs. Highlands Christian, 10; Providence vs. Fort Meade, 5

Class 5A: Niceville vs. South Fork, 1; Brandon vs. Dunedin, 8

On the Web

Can't make the game? Our writers will keep you updated on the action at blogs.tampabay.com/preps.

Brandon vs. Dunedin: a tale of two diverse teams 05/12/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 14, 2008 8:58am]
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