Two of Pasco County's three American Legion baseball teams began the playoffs last week in unsuccessful fashion. The other ballclub, however, gained a first-round reprieve due to a strong finish in the regular season.
Zephyrhills Post 118 lost a heartbreaker in its first-ever playoff game, 12-9 Thursday to Spring Hill in the District 15 tournament at the University of Tampa. Zephyrhills met Tampa Catholic Post 5 Friday night in the double-elimination series, but results were unavailable at press time.
New Port Richey Post 79, depleted by injuries for much of the season, lost 10-4 to Clearwater Post 7 and 17-3 to Gulfport Post 125 in the District 16 tournament at Dunedin's Englebert Complex.
Odessa Post 147 drew a bye in District 15 by virtue of a 15-8 record. The top six teams in the district advanced to the Central Area Tournament, which begins Thursday at Brandon High.
Zephyrhills got off to a 5-4 start in its first season, but struggled at the end, dropping six of its last seven games to wind up 8-8.
Post 118 had a formidable pitching staff in Shawn Daughtery, Ricky Moore and Raul Cruz. Catcher Jeff Crutcher said they "had good control and pretty good velocity."
But hitting, not pitching, was what kept Zephyrhills in contention for its first playoff victory. J.D. Porter led the team with a 4-for-5 night, but Spring Hill broke a tie at 9 with three runs in the top of the ninth inning. That dropped Zephyrhills into the losers bracket.
Noting that Zephyrhills split with several opponents this year, including Odessa, Moore was pleased with the new team's performance. "I thought we'd lose a lot of games this year," he said.
Brant Blessing, who helped sponsor Post 118, said he is sure the team will continue playing Legion ball next year. Blessing's son, Brad, is an infielder for Post 118 and another son, Benji, formerly played for Post 147.
"It's been real good for Zephyrhills and Dade City," Brant Blessing said.
Moore, who played for Odessa the previous two seasons, and Daughtery were the only seniors on a young team built with ballplayers from Pasco and Zephyrhills high schools.
"I like having (an American Legion team) right down the road," said Moore, a Zephyrhills resident, "but I miss coach Baisley."
Odessa coach Calvin Baisley lost Moore, but was able to retain Daniel Boyd and Rob Roberts, both of whom play baseball for Pasco High. Boyd pitched Odessa to a 5-3 win July 13 in the regular-season finale for both teams, and Roberts drove in two runs in that game.
Boyd (5-2), who tied Matt McCleary (5-0) for the team lead in wins, led Odessa with 27 strikeouts. McCleary, who blasted a two-run homer against Zephyrhills last weekend, turned in the team's lowest earned-run average at 1.29.
Odessa closed out the season with four straight wins and won seven of its final nine games. Post 147's last defeat was 2-1 to Tampa Bay Tech in 10 innings.
Odessa drew a bye in last year's playoffs as well, but never competed because several players left town on vacations. This year, Baisley said he expects 14 ballplayers to take part in the area tourney.
New Port Richey was without its two top stars, David Draksler and T.J. Tucker, for the playoffs. Both were injured for most of the season.