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Five county teams to play in elite Auburndale tourney

River Ridge plans to be on the trail of the Bloodhounds Friday and Saturday in the Auburndale Diamond Classic softball tournament.

The Royal Knights and four other Pasco County squads are part of a 16-team field vying for the championship of the prestigious tournament. And since River Ridge and Auburndale are in opposite ends of the bracket, the schools could meet for the championship.

That's precisely what Knights coach Ernie Beck would like because it would give his team a chance to avenge a 1-0 loss to the Bloodhounds in last year's region quarterfinals.

"I wouldn't mind seeing them," Beck said. "We've got a lot of girls back who remember that loss."

Joining River Ridge in the field are Ridgewood, Pasco, Hudson and Zephyrhills. River Ridge opens against Lake Gibson, Ridgewood faces Venice, Pasco meets West Orange, Hudson plays Winter Haven and Zephyrhills takes on Lake Wales.

River Ridge and Pasco would meet in the second round if the teams win first-round games. But Pasco (6-5) faces a tall order as West Orange is 8-0 and rated No. 3 in the state Class 6A poll.

Zephyrhills also has a tough opener, as Lake Wales is the state's fourth-ranked Class 4A team. The field also features three powers from the traditionally strong Miami area _ Southwest, Palmetto and Gulliver Prep _ and teams from the Orlando and Jacksonville areas.

"It's a strong tournament and we're looking forward to some good competition," said Beck, whose team went 3-1 in the tournament last year to finish ninth. "We get to play a top Class 6A team if we advance to play West Orange. It's a lot of softball and it should be a good test for our team."

River Ridge also opened the tournament last season against Lake Gibson and lost 2-1.

"They are a tough ballclub with good pitching and good defense," Beck said. "But we'd really like to win that first one this year. That's a long way to travel to get beat in the first round."

Pasco coach Jim Ward only found out Thursday that West Orange was rated so highly.

"Oh great," he said. "I knew they were good, but not that good. We just want to go there and continue to jell like we have been lately."

Pasco defeated Ridgewood 2-1 Tuesday as Lucinda Bass fired a two-hitter. The Pirates took the lead in the third when Andi Abraham singled, stole second and third, and scored on Courtney Cavall's single.

Bass improved to 3-2 and has an 0.80 earned-run average. Abraham is the top hitter with a .413 average, and Susan Dawson is batting .376.

Ward also announced that Jackie Pugh, who was expected to be the starting centerfielder, left the team to run track.

River Ridge, meanwhile, defeated Springstead 10-0 in five innings Tuesday as Kenna Rogers, Erin Derkavics and Christy Taylor combined for the shutout. Rogers (6-0) got the win. River Ridge has given up only nine runs in 11 games, five to the Rams.

Autumn Lynch drove in three runs and Taylor drove in two against Springstead as the Knights improved to 10-1. The team's leading hitter is Tiffany Martin at .435, followed by Rogers at .417, Sarah Tarnowski at .387 and Lynch at .375. Lynch has four doubles and a home run.

GATORS TOP EAST LAKE: Land O'Lakes (9-3) rallied for seven runs in the top of the seventh inning Monday to defeat Pinellas power East Lake 6-3.

"I made some great strategy," said Land O'Lakes coach Jerry English. "I told the girls to hit."

Desi Croteau doubled in two runs and Nicki Clevenger singled in two more to rally the Gators. Croteau went the distance and struck out six to raise her record to 6-3. She also fired a one-hit shutout last Thursday in a 10-0, six-inning victory over Gulf.

Croteau leads the team and the county with a .487 batting average. Clevenger is at .474, Meg McLaughlin .450, Courtney Reitler .447 and Kelly Kitson .429.

Land O'Lakes played host to River Ridge Thursday and visits Ridgewood Tuesday.

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