Tim Sims used to try to make this county rivalry sound a little better than it was.
"I'd always give it that "They're a young team, I'm sure they'll give us a good game' line" before his Hernando High baseball team waxed Central, Sims recalled.
But by the end of last season, Central finally surprised the Leopards by ousting them from the district playoffs.
Now, they're two of the hottest teams on the North Suncoast. Central swept its schedule last week to improve to 8-4, while Hernando won its two contests (one game was rained out) to improve to 9-3.
They meet for the first time in the regular season tonight at 6:30 at Hernando's Emerson Field.
"I'm excited about this one," Sims said. "This will definitely be a good one. Central is a very good team, and if we play them like we played against Citrus, they're going to 10-run us."
Sims was referring to his team's close escape last Wednesday against the 2-8 Hurricanes, who took advantage of pitching problems to lead Hernando 5-3 before falling 6-5 in the seventh inning.
But Central should not expect any such pitching trouble from Hernando tonight. Sims said he is planning to start Matt Morgan, who pitched a no-hitter and a one-hitter in his last two starts.
Central brings a standout pitcher of its own in Larry Varner, who allowed only two hits in his last outing.
Varner also was one of two batters who showed improvement in Central's 11-2 victory over River Ridge last Thursday. He went 2-for-4 to complement Kevin Welch (3-for-3, 1 RBI) and Chad Good (3-for-4, 1 RBI), who had been struggling at the plate.
"It was good to see him get on base a little more," Central coach Gary Buel said of Good. "He's our leadoff guy, and we really don't have anybody else we can put up there."
As usual, Adam Bruzzi provided a Bears highlight. Though Bruzzi's 1-for-4 performance was a hit shy of his .500-plus form this year, his one hit was a three-run homer in the fifth inning.
"That broke it open for us," Buel said. "It was 5-2 when he hit it, so suddenly it's 8-2. It was a big shot to right center. That kind of locked it for us."
Hernando faced Central in a preseason game, winning by two runs late. Said Sims: "I expect this one will be just as tight."