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SEASON OF THE BULLDOG

Still wearing his game pants, long-sleeved black undershirt and baseball hat, Zephyrhills coach Bruce Cimorelli was a picture of disappointment.

In the minutes after the Bulldogs lost to Jacksonville Bishop Kenny in the Class 4A semifinals Wednesday at Legends Field, he grabbed a solitary seat in the stands and sat nearly motionless for more than an hour.

"I'm not down," Cimorelli insisted. "We just didn't come out and play the way we could've played. Still, the kids had a heck of a season."

Zephyrhills did accomplish its seasonlong goal of making it to the final four. That it lost 9-0 in its attempt to make the state championship game will not diminish what the Bulldogs achieved this year.

"All the time we spent together on the team, we came together," senior pitcher Brett Cimorelli said. "We played great baseball and that's all you can ask for. They (Bishop Kenny) did a great job. That's why they're No. 2 in the country. They're a great team and came out and proved it.

"(People) will say we didn't get anything out of this, but me personally, I've grown as a person. This has been a great season. I hate to hear people say that."

Zephyrhills set the state single-season record for home runs with 63. The Bulldogs advanced to the state semifinals for first time in 30 years, with 11 seniors on the 16-man roster, and finished 31-3.

Along the way, Zephyrhills drew a community together. Hundreds of supporters lined up outside the front gate at Legends Field on Wednesday, more than an hour before the game even started.

And when the gates did open it was a rush to find the best seats along the third-base line, easily outnumbering Bishop Kenny's followers.

"I'll remember just the way the community and the student body got involved in it," Zephyrhills principal Jim Davis said. "I'm thinking more about the last three years, just how this group of kids really matured as not only baseball players but as individuals."

Four years ago, six freshmen, who are now seniors, became part of a program that was considered mediocre at best. The Bulldogs finished 11-15 in 1997 and 11-18 in 1998 before breaking through last season.

Zephyrhills gave everyone a glimpse of what was to come when it finished 24-9 and was one game away from Legends Field last year.

So this season was a continuation of success.

The Bulldogs won 11 games to start the season before losing 12-0 to Land O'Lakes. Zephyrhills then reeled off a school-record 15 victories before falling to the Gators again, 9-5 on April 20.

It then won five straight before losing to Bishop Kenny.

"It was fun," senior shortstop Graham Taylor said, "but I feel unfulfilled."

A bit of consolation: Zephyrhills can say it beat two state champions this season. The Bulldogs defeated Eustis and Jesuit during the regular season. On Thursday, both won state titles.

"Just getting to the state tournament is a big deal," Zephyrhills athletic director Craig Milburn said. "I said something to them the other day. I've been coaching 29 years and there are coaches that have coached all their life and they never make it to the Super Bowl and Final Four. It's a small number of people that get that honor of saying they played in a final four."

ZEPHYRHILLS

BASEBALL (31-3)

FEBRUARY

14 _ vs. Springstead, W, 13-3 (5)

17 _ vs. Lecanto, W, 12-0 (5)

18 _ vs. Land O'Lakes, W, 11-1

19 _ vs. Pasco, W, 11-4

22 _ at River Ridge, W, 10-1

23 _ at Springstead, W, 9-1

25 _ Wesley Chapel, W, 11-0 (5)

29 _ at Gulf, W, 11-6

MARCH

2 _ Central, W, 13-0

3 _ Hudson, W, 9-8

6 _ at Palm Harbor Univ., W, 6-1

7 _ at Land O'Lakes, L, 12-0

10 _ at Ridgewood, W, 11-3

14 _ Pasco, W, 6-0

17 _ River Ridge, W, 17-4

20 _ Springstead, W, 8-4

21 _ at Wesley Chapel, W, 12-1

24 _ Gulf, W, 11-1

28 _ at Hudson, W, 13-3

31 _ Tarpon Springs, W, 6-2

APRIL

1 _ at Eustis, W, 7-3

4 _ Ridgewood, W, 12-10

6 _ at Hernando, W, 7-6

7 _ at Pasco, W, 5-3

10 _ at Jesuit, W, 7-0

11 _ Palm Harbor University, W, 8-4

12 _ at Tarpon Springs, W, 6-4

20 _ Land O'Lakes, L, 9-5

26 _ Tarpon Springs, W, 14-0 (5)+

28 _ Palm Harbor University, W, 7-4

MAY

2 _ North Marion, W, 7-0%

5 _ Winter Haven, W, 7-5%

9 _ Sebring, W, 6-3%

17 _ Bishop Kenny, L, 9-0

-Tom Varn Invitational at Springstead, Central and Hernando

+-Class 4A, District 6 tourney

%-Class 4A, Region 2 playoffs

-4A state semifinal at Legends Field

AND THE CHASE IS ON: Travis Hill of Sebring is about to be caught in a rundown by Zephyrhills' Graham Taylor during the Class 4A, Region 2 final.

SHORT TRIP, LONG ROAD: After losing in the semifinals of the state tournament at Legends Field, John McClellan and his teammates prepare to board a bus back to Zephyrhills.

BRIGHT SPOT: There weren't a lot of Bulldog highlights in the 9-0 Class 4A state semifinal loss to Jacksonville Bishop Kenny in Tampa, but this was one: Zephyrhills catcher Brooks Boyette tagging out Arthur Sollee at the plate in the fourth inning.

SINKING FEELING: Brett Cimorelli senses that the end of a remarkable season is near. He took the loss against Jacksonville Bishop Kenny, his first of the season and only the third all year for Zephyrhills, which was ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 8 by Baseball America.

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