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American Legion tourney begins amid controversy

The area American Legion tournament begins today, which means the end of the season and the beginning of many questions:

+ Which of the eight teams will survive to compete in the state tournament?

+ Does Tampa's Post 248 have the pitching depth after losing two of its best?

+ And how the heck did Brandon, a perennial power with a strong team this season, end up as the seventh seed?

"There are a lot of things about this tournament that I don't have good answers for," said Frank Permuy, coach of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa, which is the No. 1 seed. "You expect a little easier opponent than Brandon in the first round when you're the No. 1 seed."

The seeding was based on the regular-season records, and for whatever reason, Brandon, consisting of several players from the high-school team that lost only two games, didn't compile a strong Legion league record.

"This is a very competitive area," area and tournament director Hector Castro said. "A lot of teams have good chances. Brandon just didn't have a good enough record."

The double-elimination tournament will be held at the University of Tampa and Brandon and today's game times are 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at both fields. Play continues through the weekend and concludes Sunday at 7 p.m. at the University of Tampa.

Tonight, Jesuit Post 152 and Plant Post 139 play first at UT, followed by Lakeland Post 8 and Land O' Lakes Post 447. Bloomingdale and Jefferson Post 248 begin things at Brandon, followed by Brandon Post 278 and Gaither's Boys and Girls Club team.

Jefferson Post 248, which may have the longest and strongest tradition among the teams, is seeded fourth with a 25-7 record.

Post 248 coach Pop Cuesta remains optimistic despite losing his two best pitchers, former Jesuit stars Sam Marsonek and Nick Stocks who were chosen high in the pro baseball draft and currently are competing to make the Junior Olympic squad.

"When we lost those pitchers we went from a great team to a very good team," Cuesta said. "Now we're pitching by committee."

The "committee" includes Johnny Castillo (3-1), Mike Suarez (4-1), Ronnie Merrill (4-1), Donald Caldwell (3-0) and newcomer Wes Goodner, who had been at a baseball camp before showing Cuesta his 88-mph fastball this week.

"Most of my pitchers were infielders and outfielders during their high school seasons," Cuesta said. "But they are good solid baseball players and if they can hold up on the mound then we'll have a chance."

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