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Games to Watch

Palm Harbor U. at Countryside

WHEN: Today, 4 p.m.

OUTLOOK: With spring break coming up and a few weeks remaining in the season, it's unlikely either team will worry too much about this game. Right. This annual must-see game is circled on the schedule the first day of practice, but this year more than just bragging rights are at stake. The Hurricanes and Cougars are Class 5A, District 9 foes for the first time, and if one team can sweep the showdowns today and April 3, the top district tournament seed is a certainty. Countryside (18-0) has played like a carbon copy of its 2001 version, rising to No. 1 in the state behind a devastating lineup and pitching. Only the hurler this year is Bree Spence, not Crystal Crews. PHU (15-2) is No. 6 and equally potent, with arguably the best battery in the state in right-handed pitcher Katie Dobson and catcher/slugger Janine Palumbo. Come early and expect to stay late _ this one won't end in five innings and might not end in seven. Last year, Countryside won two 1-0 games in 12 and 13 innings.

Clearwater at East Lake

WHEN: Today, 4 p.m.

OUTLOOK: The volunteer saddled with collecting admission for this game will not be terribly busy because of that "other" game going on in Clearwater, but the significance of this matchup is equally important. The Tornadoes and Eagles will end up as the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds in 5A-9 and harbor dreams of knocking off the top two, but they'll have to get better. Clearwater (8-8) appears on the verge of playing more consistent, but East Lake (4-7) has been a disappointment. Tuesday, the Eagles were shut out 5-0 by Pinellas Park. Clearwater won the teams' first matchup 2-1, breaking a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the seventh.

The Super Seven With last week's ranking in parenthesis.

1. (1) Countryside (18-0) _ No one on this side of the bay can argue with No. 1 ranking, but Class 5A No. 3 Chamberlain (12-1), which beat Cougars in last year's playoffs, could.

2. (2) Palm Harbor U. (15-2) _ Not afraid to hit the road for tough games. After Countryside, will head to Miami this weekend.

3. (3) St. Petersburg Catholic (13-1) _ Escapes with 4-3 win Monday over Sarasota Out-of-Door after committing four errors.

4. (5) Seminole (13-3) _ Lisa Hasson outduels Northeast's Crystal Folwell last Thursday in 3-2 win.

5. (4) Northeast (10-3) _ Split season series with Warhawks; top seed in 5A-10 could come down to overall record tiebreaker.

6. (7) Northside Christian (8-3) _ Beat Keswick Christian 6-1 on Monday to extend winning streak to four.

7. (6) Osceola (6-5) _ Win over Tampa Catholic last week could have locked up a playoff spot in three-team 3A-9, but early five-run lead turned into 12-8 loss.

Growing Pains

Last season, Keswick Christian won two out of every three games and advanced to the second round of the Class A playoffs. It's recommended that Crusaders fans with thoughts of repeating that success sit tight for a year.

Coach Robin Hintz's group is mostly eighth-graders with just one returning starter _ catcher Denise Behers. The results have been predictable: 1-6 with the first win coming last week against Bradenton Saint Stephen's. But the 10th-year coach is up to the challenge of spending an entire season teaching the game.

"Several have never played before, but with every game is improvement," Hintz said. "I enjoy seeing it, seeing the light bulb go on."

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