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Putting a standout in his Place

In Pinellas County's Year of the Pitcher, mound-dwellers like Spears, Brown, Griffin, the McClellan brothers, Wilson and others shined like the scouts figured they would. But no one figured there was a place for Joel.

Still, Joel Place made room in a crowded scene of premier pitchers. Place became a surprise for Seminole, learning control and recording an 8-3 record for the Warhawks. He also struck out 67 in 53 innings, and inked in a 2.64 ERA.

It was Place's pitching that distinguished him as the best player in Pinellas. Place's normal position is the outfield _ a position that featured Pinellas' best hitters this year _ and he played it well. And he batted well, hitting .389 with two home runs and 25 RBI.

For his standout versatility, Place is the Times Player of the Year.

The Times Coach of the Year is Todd Vaughan of Clearwater Central Catholic. In his third season as head coach, Vaughan directed the Marauders to their first trip to the Class 2A state tournament in 11 years, where they upset Miami Westminster to reach the final.

Vaughan gets the nod over a handful of contenders, including Dixie Hollins' Tim Wiszowaty, who coached the Rebels to their first-ever Pinellas County Athletic Conference title, and East Lake's Lee Byers, who led the Eagles to the 3A-District 11 championship.

Place's competition for the players' honor came mainly from the outfield _ Northeast's J.R. Spahr, with his .394 average and 29 RBI, Pinellas Park's Wes Straw (.409, 22 RBI and five home runs) and Darren Bush (.412, 20 RBI).

The four outfielders initially presented a problem in deciding the Times All-County team, which was compiled by Times staff writers and correspondents who covered baseball. But how could four top outfielders appear on the first team? No problem. We put Straw and his power in the designated hitter's spot.

Then came the dilemma of deciding the pitchers. Radar guns were the rage in Pinellas this past season as scouts crowded in the bleachers. The upcoming professional baseball draft will surely feature its share of county pitchers. But the Times team is not based on pro prospects (we could have chosen that team before the season), but rather on high school performance.

Although there are only three pitching slots, we put four pitchers on the first team (and we're not even including Place). Gibbs' Cory Brown struck out 124 in 84 innings, compiling a 7-3 record and 1.51 ERA. Yet, Brown is the first-team utility player. We can justify that because Brown also played shortstop and batted .364 with 17 RBI and 11 triples.

With Brown as a utility player, three pitchers were plucked from the talent pool.

Shorecrest's Shane Spears, besides batting .516, struck out 152 in 84-plus innings and showcased a 0.75 ERA and 9-4 record. He threw a one-hitter in the district final and a no-hitter in the sectional championship game.

Sean McClellan proved to be the ace of a fine Seminole staff, going 5-0 with an 0.76 ERA. One of his wins was a 2-1 victory over Sarasota. He also had two no-decisions, against Dunedin and Coral Gables, in which he did not allow a run in 15 innings.

Dunedin's Ryan Griffin, considered a good prospect in rightfield, used his strong arm on the mound for a 1.01 ERA and a 7-1 record that included wins over Sarasota, Sarasota Riverview and Westminster.

Catching this staff is Mark Gipner of Dunedin. A cornerstone behind home plate, Gipner starred defensively and as a leader. And he wasn't bad with the stick, batting .337.

First base belongs to Paul Reynolds, a key member of East Lake's championship season. Reynolds had 32 hits (.368 average), two home runs and 25 RBI.

Tony Lagos is the choice for second base. He provided the spark to Dixie Hollins' conference-winning year. He made good things happen, including his 18 RBI and .317 average.

Scott Kanehl of Dunedin is the shortstop. He batted .298 and fueled the strong Falcons team, especially on defense where he often reached grounders others couldn't, and still made only four errors all season.

Jamie Kelly of surprising Pinellas Park is at third base. The Patriots won a holiday tournament and contended for the conference, and Kelly's play, including a .365 average, had a lot to do with that.

From the first to the second team there is very little drop-off in production at most positions, especially on the mound (Largo's Dennis Slininger, Dixie's Kevin White and CCC's Gary Wilson) and at shortstop (CCC's Scott Sanders).

A third team is also named. Dunedin, which won three tournaments, including its district, and a regional title, placed five players on the first three teams. CCC, Dixie and Seminole landed four players apiece.

The honorable mention selections, besides guaranteeing a representative from every school, consist of players considered for one of the first three teams.

_ Times correspondent Wayne McKnight contributed to this report.

All-county baseball team

Player of the Year: Joel Place, Seminole

Coach of the Year: Todd Vaughan, Clearwater Central Catholic

First team

Pos. Player School Class

P Ryan Griffin Dunedin Senior

P Sean McClellan Seminole Junior

P Shane Spears Shorecrest Senior

C Mark Gipner Dunedin Senior

1B Paul Reynolds East Lake Senior

2B Tony Lagos Dixie Hollins Senior

SS Scott Kanehl Dunedin Senior

3B Jamie Kelly Pinellas Park Junior

OF Darren Bush Dunedin Junior

OF Joel Place Seminole Senior

OF J.R. Spahr Northeast Senior

DH Wes Straw Pinellas Park Senior

Ut Cory Brown Gibbs Junior

Second team

Pos. Player School Class

P Dennis Slininger Largo Senior

P Kevin White Dixie Hollins Senior

P Gary Wilson CC Catholic Senior

C Jason Kylis Largo Senior

1B Aaron Lucas Dunedin Senior

2B Jeff Shields Gibbs Junior

SS Scott Sanders CC Catholic Senior

3B Gary Bodnar Seminole Senior

OF Rick Braisted Dixie Hollins Senior

OF Chad Gambill Clearwater Sophomore

OF R.J. Slutz East Lake Senior

DH Eric Klug Shorecrest Junior

Ut Walt Bonasaro Tarpon Springs Senior

Third team

Pos. Player School Class

P Jason Dall Clearwater Sophomore

P Matt Delancey Pinellas Park Junior

P Brian Williard Dixie Hollins Senior

C Sean Kilpatrick Gibbs Senior

1B Jay Pink Tarpon Springs Senior

2B Matt Granese CC Catholic Senior

SS Eric Ondrey Seminole Junior

3B Dennis Black Boca Ciega Senior

OF Bob Kovack CC Catholic Junior

OF Don Ritter St. Petersburg Sophomore

OF Clay Thomas Shorecrest Senior

DH Sloane Beckelheimer Largo Senior

Ut Todd Nilsen Northeast Senior

Honorable mention

Admiral Farragut _ Chris Novilla, Joe Roach. Boca Ciega _ Mike Boyd, Ross Himber. Canterbury _ Kevin Gallo. Clearwater _ Craig Herbolsheimer. Clearwater Central Catholic _ Eric Andress. Countryside _ Chris Cumberland. Dixie Hollins _ Pat Hawk, Carlos Melendez. Dunedin _ Brad Jackson. East Lake _ Ted Elliott. Keswick Christian _ Scott Loden. Lakewood _ Trevor Mallory. Lakeside Christian _ Casey Osborne. Northeast _ Shawn Austin, Kurt King, Matt Schaffer. Northside Christian _ David York. Osceola _ Mike Comiskey. Pinellas Park _ Mike Kalous. St. Paul _ Lou DiNicola. St. Petersburg _ Brent Hoover, Dan Topping. St. Petersburg Catholic _ Tony Grzanowski, Todd Von Drasek. Seminole _ Darren McClellan. Shorecrest _ Dean Harkey, David Stringer. Tarpon Springs _ Paul Boehm.

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