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Four softball teams ready to sort things out

With a little more than two weeks left before district tournaments crank up, the top of the standings in Class 5A-9 looks a lot like most of America's NCAA hoops bracket following the barrage of weekend upsets:

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A jumbled mess.

East Lake, Palm Harbor University, Pinellas Park and Tarpon Springs have bruised and bloodied each other to the point that no team has separated itself from the others.

Take a look at how unpredictable the regular season has been (district records in parentheses):

• Tarpon Springs (8-2) surprised early with eight straight district victories, including program-defining wins over East Lake, PHU and Pinellas Park before losing its last two to the Hurricanes and Eagles.

• PHU (6-4) has four district losses and five overall for the first time since its 1999 state championship team, which finished the year 30-6. The Hurricanes, however, are capable of beating anybody. Look at their 8-3 victory over Tarpon Springs for proof.

• Pinellas Park (8-2) has remained steady all season, collecting victories over East Lake and PHU, coupled with losses to East Lake and Tarpon Springs.

• East Lake (8-2) was on life support after opening with losses to Tarpon Springs and Pinellas Park but is currently the hottest team in the county after eight straight wins, beating PHU, Pinellas Park and Tarpon Springs in the process.

All of which begs the question: Can any team separate itself from the pack?

"Usually, it's been a two-team race. The past couple years it's turned into a three-team race," East Lake coach Mike Estes said. "This year any of four teams could win it."

With two district games remaining for each team, East Lake appears to have a leg up for the district tournament's top seed and lone first-round bye with a winnable doubleheader remaining against Largo (April 7).

Tarpon Springs and Pinellas Park play each other today. If Tarpon Springs wins, then beats Dunedin on Thursday, the Spongers would finish first, provided Pinellas Park takes care of PHU in a date-to-be-determined makeup game from a rainout. The Patriots can't place first without an unexpected East Lake loss.

But, other than playing one fewer game, are there any advantages this year to being the No. 1 seed?

"I don't think there's a big difference in how the teams stack up," PHU coach Chuck Poetter said. "No. 4 could lose to No. 1, and No. 3 could beat No. 2. It's been very competitive."

And it should make for an entertaining district tournament come April 14.

Four softball teams ready to sort things out 03/25/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2008 11:55am]
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