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Team's play sets example

A sports drink in one hand and a towel in the other, Brooks Boyette straightened his upper lip in an attempt to keep it from trembling.

Mike Stepp admitted he was going to go home, take a shower, listen to some sad music and cry.

For Boyette, Stepp and nine other Zephyrhills baseball players, four years worth of expectation ended two games short of the ultimate goal when the Bulldogs lost 9-0 to Bishop Kenny in the Class 4A semifinals at Legends Field.

"They're classy kids and I'm very proud of them," Zephyrhills coach Bruce Cimorelli said. "This is one game. This is not going to put a damper on this season."

Beside advancing to the final four for the first time in 30 years, which is what every player thought they knew they could do, the Bulldogs (31-3) broke the record for most home runs in a season and drew tremendous support from their East Pasco community.

"I think we've set an example for some of the younger kids to come, something to look up to," senior shortstop Graham Taylor said. "Maybe we've started a little tradition for Zephyrhills to be known as a baseball school."

After a season-long chase, Zephyrhills caught and passed Merritt Island's record of 60 home runs in the playoffs. Senior Brett Cimorelli hit the 61st against Sebring in the Class 4A Region 2 championship.

Senior first baseman Jose Cuevas, who slumped this season after having a productive season in 1999, hit the 63rd and final home run for the Bulldogs later that game.

This senior class wasn't spoiled by success in its four years. Zephyrhills finished 11-15 in 1997 and 11-18 in 1998. Last year Zephyrhills finished 24-9 after it lost to Jacksonville Englewood in the region championship.

This year the Bulldogs lost just two games before Wednesday _ both to Land O'Lakes _ and built a big enough fan base to fill hundreds of seats at Legends Field.

Four players, Boyette, Stepp, Taylor and Jossie Aponte, will play at Hillsborough Community College next season. Brett Cimorelli will play football and baseball at Florida State.

"It's over," Boyette said. "That's all there is. We didn't finish. We had it, had a chance and just didn't go through with it. It would've been nice to win."