Cotey: Don't dare look past Dunedin

Dunedin’s Alex Norris says the win over East Lake “showed people that we’re for real.” The Falcons gave Norris a six-run lead in the first inning.

JOHN C. COTEY | Times

Dunedin’s Alex Norris says the win over East Lake “showed people that we’re for real.” The Falcons gave Norris a six-run lead in the first inning.

TARPON SPRINGS — After Dunedin took apart East Lake 6-2 in a baseball game that was never close, not even for a second, the question came up.

Statement game?

Message to the rest of Pinellas County?

A sign?

Falcons coach Tom Hilbert thought about that for a moment, and then smiled, because he quickly imagined any answer he gave ending up taped to the inside of dugouts everywhere.

"Oh, I don't know," he said. "We just want to play."

So we moved on to other things, like the stock market and mortgage crisis and oh, how much he loves this young team of his.

Between hemming and hawing, this much you can make out: Hilbert is pretty confident that this team of diaper diamonds will be very good by the end of the season.

Maybe even district championship good.

"We'll be there," he says, leaving you to figure out just where there is.

Last year, Dunedin was supposed to be a state contender. It was loaded with senior talent, had excellent experienced pitching and just enough big bats in the middle of the lineup to give the program a long-awaited state title.

Then everyone graduated.

And there was a void. A big giant gaping space left by the county's mightiest public school baseball program.

Who would fill it? East Lake, the preseason Class 5A-9 favorite? A Palm Harbor University program that is always competitive? A surprise team, maybe Clearwater or Tarpon Springs?

Or, umm, how about this:

Dunedin?

By knocking off East Lake, winners of three straight and according to many, the best team in the county on paper, the Falcons showed that the void last year's team was supposed to create isn't quite the size we thought it was.

"I think we came out tonight and showed people that we're for real," said lefty Alex Norris, who was too much for the Eagles to handle, especially after starting the night better than he had expected — with a 6-0 lead.

A two-run homer by sophomore Casey Turgeon and consecutive run-scoring doubles by freshman Ben Emery and sophomore Jordan Savinon all but finished off East Lake starter Brian Johnson before the first inning was over, probably leaving Eagles coach Mike White to ponder whether he should have started Cody Alessi instead.

(Alessi came in and was outstanding again for five innings, giving the Eagles a chance to rally if Norris hadn't been so stingy.)

This season, the Falcons have lost just twice, both times in extra innings. They have played a tough schedule that includes Class A power Eagles View and Class 6A power Lakeland. They are learning fast, and improving rapidly.

Hilbert loves this. He is excited by the early-season challenges. After years of coaching under extreme pressure, he seems to enjoy his Falcons flying under the radar.

"This is fun," he said. "Keep it coming."

Make no mistake, this year's Falcons are not nearly as good as last year's group. And no one can make a claim to being the district's best team.

At this split second, it's Dunedin, though PHU can say, hey, we just beat Dunedin; to which East Lake could say, but we beat PHU; which might just prompt Pinellas Park and Clearwater to say, dude, but we beat East Lake.

So Friday wasn't really a statement game. Too early.

Or a message to the rest of Pinellas County. Too premature.

Or a sign. Too overreaching.

But it was a reminder that Dunedin is still Dunedin, and until teams like East Lake can get over that, the Falcons aren't going to let just anyone sit on their throne.

"I know we're supposed to be rebuilding," said Turgeon, "but we're not going to go down easy."

Cotey: Don't dare look past Dunedin 03/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 14, 2009 12:17am]

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