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Eagles taking on best despite their youth

Springstead High's sophomore-dominant squad just got waxed last week by Tampa Jesuit, which has been nationally ranked this season, and is preparing to face the defending Missouri state champion on Monday.

It's not as if the Eagles are lacking for quality competition. But that's exactly what they're getting this week at the Dunedin SpringTournament.

Central and Hernando join the Eagles in the 16-team tourney at Dunedin Stadium and the Englebert Complex. Central and Hernando play their first games Monday, while Springstead already has played its opener against yet another tough opponent, Tarpon Springs. The Eagles play again Tuesday.

Springstead coach Tony Zefiretto said he doesn't get tired of playing such powerful competition.

"We think we can compete with all of these teams," he said. "We're young, but it's like I told the kids _"You tell me if I'm missing something, but we do have this potential.' We have to approach each and every game like we can win it."

Zefiretto was bothered that his team played poorly against Jesuit on the heels of another lackluster performance against Zephyrhills.

It doesn't help that the Eagles start only three seniors as their fourth, shortstop Greg Coleman, remains out with a hip flexor injury. Coleman, the leading hitter last season, has been out of the lineup for three weeks already and will miss at least a fourth.

"We're looking at the beginning of April now," Zefiretto said. The injury is hard to heal, he said, because "it's an area that's being used constantly. Every time he walks he uses it."

Springstead will use its day off from the tournament Monday to host Parkway Central of Chesterfield, Mo., at 6 p.m.

"They make a trip down here and apparently a couple of teams have been dropping them because they turned out to be so good," Zefiretto said.

Central and Hernando both open tournament play Monday on different fields at Englebert. Central plays St. Petersburg Northeast at 6 p.m. and Hernando takes on Largo at 6:30.

Hernando is coming off a 5-2 loss to Land O'Lakes on Wednesday (a Thursday game against Lecanto was rained out).

"It was a good ballgame but we had one bad inning," Leopards coach Tim Sims said. "We (gave up) a walk, an error, a walk, a walk, a double, another error."

Hernando otherwise had a solid pitching performance by Patrick Henning, who struck out eight.

Sims said the Dunedin tournament is always a fun experience for his players and coaches.

"Playing in a major-league complex and facing different teams makes all the difference," he said. "This adds a little bit of spice."

DUNEDIN SPRING TOURNAMENT AT A GLANCE

WHAT: 28th annual double-elimination high school baseball tournament.

WHO: A 16-team field from Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties.

WHERE: Dunedin Stadium and Englebert Complex.

WHEN: Began Saturday. Resumes Monday, runs through Friday.

ADMISSION: $4.

ABOUT THE TOURNAMENT: Host Dunedin has won the double-elimination event 10 times, but not since 1992. Two-time defending champion Clearwater is young and off to a rocky start. Locally, Springstead was one of three third-place finishers in 1996; Hernando High finished second in 1995.

SCHEDULE: Games played Saturday _ Tarpon Springs vs. Springstead, Dunedin vs. Zephyrhills, Clearwater vs. Ridgewood, East Lake vs. Pinellas Park, Dixie Hollins vs. Pasco, Countryside vs. River Ridge.

Monday at Dunedin Stadium _ Clearwater-Ridgewood winner vs. Dixie Hollins-Pasco winner, 6; East Lake-Pinellas Park winner vs. Countryside-River Ridge winner, 8:30.

Monday at Englebert _ Northeast vs. Brooksville Central, 6; Clearwater-Ridgewood loser vs. East Lake-Pinellas Park loser, 6; Hernando vs. Largo, 6:30; Dixie Hollins-Pasco loser vs. Countryside-River Ridge loser, 8.

Tuesday at Dunedin Stadium _ Dunedin-Zephyrhills winner vs. Hernando-Largo winner, 5; Tarpon Springs-Springstead winner vs. Northeast-Brooksville Central winner.

Tuesday At Englebert _ Consolation bracket, 6, 6:30 and 7.

Wednesday at Dunedin Stadium _ Semifinals, 5:30 and 8.

Wednesday at Englebert Complex _ Consolation bracket, 5:30, 6, 7, 8, 8:30.

Thursday at Dunedin Stadium _ Consolation brackets, 5 and 7:30.

Friday at Dunedin Stadium _ Consolation bracket, 5; Championship, 8.

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