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Mourtakos slimmer, Rams solid

Alex Mourtakos is not exactly a lean, mean pitching machine. But the standout Ridgewood High senior has lost 30 pounds and he and the Rams shape up as the Sunshine Athletic Conference favorite this season.

Mourtakos was a heavyweight in more ways than one last season as he compiled a 12-3 record and 2.15 earned-run average to lead Ridgewood to a 22-9 record. This year Mourtakos is still stocky, but has lost his girth of last season when the 6-footer weighed 270 pounds.

He said losing the weight will make him a better pitcher.

"I feel stronger and I'm throwing harder," Mourtakos said. "I'm just going to go out and do my best."

Mourtakos' best could help Ridgewood have its best season since 1990, when another ace pitcher, Dave Dorneweerd, led the team to the state sectionals.

"This team reminds a lot of the '90 team," said Ridgewood coach Larry Beets. "I've got an excellent starting pitcher, but the rest I don't know about. They may get excited and just catch fire like that '90 team did."

Ridgewood's chief conference competition will likely come from Zephyrhills. While the Bulldogs lack the ace pitcher (with fireballer Mark Roberts graduated), the team is very experienced. Last season, Zephyrhills' schedule included many of the state's top teams.

"I think what will really help these kids is the schedule we played last year," said Zephyrhills coach Craig Milburn. "Playing a top-notch sked like that provided valuable experience and it should pay a lot of dividends."

Here's a look at Pasco County's seven high school baseball teams:

Gulf Buccaneers

Coach: Jerry Young (18th season).

1993 record: 15-10.

District: 4A-7.

Top returnees: Anthony DiStefano, Sr., 1B; Scott Riefner, Jr., C; Kevin Abrams, Jr., P; Nick Bavouis, Jr., P; Charles Wilhelm. Jr., P; Ryan Burns, Sr., P; Kenny Kelly, Sr., OF.

Strength: Left-handed pitching. "I've got four of them," Young said.

Weakness: Hitting. "I usually have good hitting every year but this year we lack in power," Young said.

Outlook: "Hopefully, we'll get better the more we play," Young said. "But it will be a slow process."

So far: The Bucs are 1-2 and play at Zephyrhills Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Hudson Cobras

Coach: Steve Flack (third year).

1993 record: 8-12.

District: 3A-7.

Top returnees: Chris Whitesel, Sr., SS; Jason Costa, Sr., 3B; Brian Sullivan, Jr., 2B; Greg Weiss, Sr. C; Matt Palmer, Sr., CF.

Strength: Defense, pitching.

Weakness: Hitting.

Outlook: "We're looking to have successful season," Flack said. "How successful depends on how we develop."

So far: The Cobras are 0-3 in preseason tourneys and are at Ridgewood Tuesday at 7.

Land O'Lakes Gators

Coach: Calvin Baisley (10th year).

1993 record: 13-14.

District: 3A-7.

Top returnees: Trevor Lansford, Sr., OF; Jeff Walls, Sr., P/SS; Gabe Tracy, Jr., 1B.

Strength: "Our defense is pretty solid."

Weakness: "We're having trouble hitting the ball," Baisley said.

Outlook: "We expect to be competitive once our top four pitchers are healthy."

So far: The Gators are 2-3 and play at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Pasco.

Pasco Pirates

Coach: Rick Giles (first year).

1993 record: 13-9.

District: 3A-7.

Top returnees: Tim Crosby, Jr., P/SS; Chris Morgan, Sr., 3B; Page Sessoms, Jr., CF.

Strength: Defense. "We've strengthened that area after a lot of errors last season," Giles said.

Weakness: Hitting.

Outlook: "We should start to gel about the middle of the season, and hopefully by districts we'll be playing our best," Giles said.

So far: The Pirates are 1-1 and play at home Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Land O'Lakes.

Ridgewood Rams

Coach: Larry Beets (11th season).

1993 record: 22-9.

District: 4A-7.

Top returnees: Alex Mourtakos, Sr., P; Robbie Blankenship, Sr., C; Tommy Larson, Sr., SS; Matt Pratt, Sr., LF; Danny Ortiz, Sr., CF; Tim Shepherd, Sr. RF.

Strength: Starting pitching, defense.

Weakness: Pitching depth.

Outlook: The Rams should challenge perennial power Dunedin for the district title.

So far: The Rams are 3-0 and play host to Hudson Tuesday at 7 p.m.

River Ridge Royal Knights

Coach: Jack Homko (third year).

1993 record: 13-17.

District: 3A-8.

Top returnees: Alex Webb, Sr., SS/P; Heath Anderson, Sr., C; Jeff Kidder, Sr., P; David Draksler, So., P/IF.

Strength: Pitching. "We have three kids who can start and several who can come in and throw," Homko said.

Weakness: Outfield. "We had three seniors last year and all three were the starting outfield," Homko said.

Outlook: "Hopefully, we'll be better than last year," Homko said. "We'd like to have a winning record."

So far: The Knights are 1-1 and play Springstead Monday at home at 7 p.m.

Zephyrhills Bulldogs

Coach: Craig Milburn (15th season.)

1993 record: 16-12.

District: 3A-7.

Top returnees: Kevin McLeod, Sr., SS; Robbie Hayward, Sr., C; Benji Blessing, Sr., P/3B.

Strengths: Experience, defense.

Weakness: "Our pitching has some question marks," Milburn said. "Hopefully, we'll get those answered this year."

Outlook: "We should be better than .500," Milburn said.

So far: The Bulldogs are 3-0 and play host to Gulf Tuesday at 7 p.m.