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It's district tourney time

Whether a team was 20-0 or 0-20 in the regular season doesn't matter now. It's district tournament time and that means one thing: lose and the season's over. "Everybody starts off 0-0," said Plant City coach Chipper Bills, whose team finished the regular season 21-1 and ranked No. 3 in the state Class 4A poll. "You've got to win three in a row. Everybody is equal."

Don't get the idea that the regular season is a waste of time, though. It allows teams to learn their strengths and weaknesses, iron out problems and provides a base for seeding the teams for the tournaments.

Class 4A, District 5: This could be one of the toughest districts to win. Two teams - Plant City and Lake Gibson - are ranked in the top 10 in the state and a third - Lakeland - only recently fell out of the top 10. Of those three, only Plant City, the No. 1 seed, is seeded in the top 3.

Seeding was based not on overall records but on a team's record against 4A schools. Under that criteria, East Bay, which finished the season 14-7, is the No. 2 seed and Brandon (13-6) is No. 3. Lake Gibson, which ended the regular season 21-7 and is ranked No. 10, is the fourth seed while Lakeland (22-7) is seeded sixth. The Dreadnaughts were ranked No. 10 three weeks ago.

"It makes you really question the seeding process," said Brandon coach Jon Mackey, whose team faces Lakeland this afternoon at 3:45 p.m. "Those teams didn't play many 4A schools."

Regardless of how the seedings ended up, whichever team wins the

championship will have to face some stiff competition. Only two of the eight teams have losing records.

Class 4A, District 6: Nowhere are regular-season records less meaningful than in 4A-6. For the first time anyone can remember, the tournament will begin without any team sporting a winning record.

"I've never been associated with anything like that," said Gaither coach Leo Haggerty, who has been in coaching for 15 years. "There is no one team to beat."

That last statement is underscored by the fact that Hillsborough, which ended the regular season 10-11, is the No. 1 seed based on its record against district opponents. The Terriers lost just two district games but both losses were to sixth-seed Leto - the Falcons only two district wins.

"It's been a really freaky year throughout the county," Chamberlain coach Betty Lambert said. "I think it's real close. The team that is going to click the next three days will be the district champion."

That's where the seeding may come into play. The top two seeds receive byes in the first round.

Class 3A, District 8: If the seeding process is accurate, Haines City and Plant should meet in the championship game in the 3A-8 tournament hosted by Lake Wales.

Haines City and Plant each finished with identical 17-3 records against 3A and 4A opponents sending the seeding process to the tie breaker: overall records. Haines City came out on top by virtue of the fact it played seven more games than Plant and finished the regular season 23-4.

"I don't think it matters very much," said Plant coach Pam Blanford, whose team debuted in the No. 9 spot in the state 3A poll this week. "They're in one half of the bracket and we're in the other half."

One thing Blanford is concerned about is the drive to Lake Wales.

"I hate having to ride over there three nights in a row," she said. "It's hard to keep the kids up."

Class 2A, District 11: Clearwater Central Catholic, 22-4 and seeded No. 1, is the team to beat. Two-time and defending champion Tampa Catholic is seeded third after ending the season 11-11.

The Crusaders open against host Sarasota-Cardinal Mooney, which ended the season 13-14 and is the No. 2 seed.

"Mooney and us both have realistic shots at knocking (CCC) off," Tampa Catholic coach John Lombardi said. "It's a big role reversal.

We were the favorites the last couple of years and we held them off."

Class A, District 9: Play in the A-9 tournament started Tuesday at Bayshore Christian. Action resumes today with Tampa Prep (18-2) taking on Lakeland-Pathway Christian (4-12, seeded No. 9) at 2 p.m. and Berkeley Prep (14-6 and seeded No. 4) meeting No. 5 seed Lakeland-Santa Fe (8-11) at 4 p.m.

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