The first game in the double-elimination East Side-West Side Invitational Softball Championship at Whispering Pines Park won't be played until tonight. But in a sense, the West already has a 6-2 advantage as far as the number of teams in the tournament is concerned.
Four teams from the Inverness Parks and Recreation Department normally represent the east side of the county, and four teams from the Citrus County Parks and Recreation Department play for the west side in the annual tournament. But No. 2 seed and defending tournament champion 2250, and No. 4 seed Griff's _ both Inverness teams _ had to drop out.
"2250 has an out-of-county tournament they're playing in and some players have left the team, and Griff's had some players leave the team during the season and others are on vacation," Inverness Parks and Recreation director Patty Smith said Wednesday.
"This is the first time that I know of where teams have dropped out, so I talked with Ray Sargent from Citrus County Parks and Recreation.
"This tournament is special for rec league teams and involves bragging rights, so I told him if two west side teams were not interested, then I'd like to invite the first-place church league team and he agreed, but said the first opportunity to get into the tournament should go to a rec league team."
First Baptist/Inverness finished at 12-1 in the church league but was left out when Bay Area Air Conditioning and Sugarmill Woods, two west side clubs with 1-15 records, accepted bids to play.
Sports Radar won its first recreation league title with a 15-3 mark under manager Tony Albiero, and is joined by Century 21/Bill & Gerries (12-6) as the only true east teams in the tournament.
"Our strength is our power hitting," Albiero said. "We hit the ball long pretty consistently. Throughout the season we averaged 4.8 home runs per game when there was a limit of five.
"We have a pretty good defense, but the key for us will be to get our hitting going. We have to hit the ball."
Manager Larry Johnson steered Proline Boats to a crown in the Citrus County Parks and Recreation Department Men's League this spring with a 15-1 record, making it the No.1 seed for the west in the tournament.
"We're going to just go play hard like we have all season long," Johnson said. "Our co-MVPs, Scott Fruelin and Butch McKinney, have to come through like they have all year for us. Between the two of them they led the team on the field and off the field. When we needed something good to happen and they were at bat, they came through."
_ Staff writers Joanne Korth and Steve Hasel contributed to this East Side-West Side Invitational
When: Today through Saturday.
Where: Whispering Pines Park, Inverness.
Who: Sports Radar (15-3), Century 21/Bill & Gerries (12-6), Sugarmill Woods (1-15) and Bay Area Air Conditioning (1-15) represent the east; Proline Boats (15-1), Citrus-95 (13-3), Skidmore's Sports Supply (11-5) and Hungry Howie's (11-6) represent the west in the double-elimination tournament.
Schedule: Today _ Game 1, Proline Boats vs. Bay Area Air Conditioning, 6:45 p.m.; Game 2, Century 21/Bill & Gerries vs. Skidmore's Sports Supply, 7:55 p.m.; Game 3, Citrus-95 vs. Sugarmill Woods, 9:05 p.m. Friday _ Game 4, Sports Radar vs. Hungry Howie's, 6:45 p.m.; Game 5, Loser game 1 vs. loser game 2, 7:55 p.m.; Game 6, Loser game 3 vs. loser game 4, 9:05 p.m. Saturday _ Games begin at 9 a.m. and continue until a champion is decided.