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Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em

Pitching is a limited commodity. With games on back-to-back days, coaches must decide who to pitch and who to save.

River Ridge coach Jack Homko was in that predicament last week with his team trailing Ridgewood and another district game looming the next day against Land O'Lakes. The result was a 21-4 loss to the Rams, but that sacrifice helped the Knights beat the Gators 4-3.

"I pulled a Jose Canseco," Homko said. "I looked at the scoreboard and just didn't want to use any more pitchers. It was one of those cases where you have to write it off and move on. Somebody on the bench spoke up and said, "Hey, Coach, I used to throw a little."

After using a starter and two relievers, reserve Zach Justus, came in to pitch the last four outs for Homko in the five-inning loss, giving up only one hit.

The rest Justus gave the Knights pitchers helped them outduel the Gators the next day, and Homko said he understands everyone might not be thrilled about "losing by two touchdowns and a field goal."

"I'm sure a couple of parents weren't happy but I was proud of the kids, taking two out of three games," Homko said.

Ridgewood coach Larry Beets called it "one of those games you just want to get through."

"The game can change so quickly, so if you shut down too soon, you might be shooting yourself in the foot," said Homko, who recently read an article that suggested high schools eliminate the mercy rule. "If they didn't end it after five, we'd still be out there."

THAT'S ONE LOWE ERA: Ridgewood's Ronnie Lowe continued his domination on the mound Tuesday in a 6-2 win against Hudson, holding the Cobras to three hits and striking out 17 to give him a county-high 70 K's.

"He took the bull by the horns, did exactly what you want a senior to do there," said Beets, noting Lowe struck out five batters in one inning, because on two occasions a curveball in the dirt eluded the catcher, allowing the runner to advance to first.

Lowe was the first county pitcher to six wins, and his 0.68 ERA matches Hudson's Bryan Strawser as the county's lowest. Both have allowed three earned runs in 30 innings, but give the edge to Strawser _ he's given up six total runs, while Lowe has given up 13.

NO BREAK HERE: River Ridge and Land O'Lakes will compete with some of the state's top teams in a tournament in Dunedin over spring break. River Ridge opens play Saturday against Clearwater Central Catholic, undefeated and ranked third in Class 2A. The Knights lost 3-0 to CCC earlier this season. The winner of that game will face Land O'Lakes on Monday.

"It's a good experience. We used to go all the time when the scheduling allowed us," said Baisley, whose team will play at the minor-league complexes for the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies. "Given the choice, I'd rather play teams we haven't seen before. That's always one of the most appealing things about a tournament like this."

ODDS AND ENDS: Gulf has seen both ends of the spectrum in the past week. Dan Proctor's eighth-inning grand slam gave the Bucs a 10-6 district win against Tarpon Springs, but Gulf followed that with nine errors _ five in one inning _ in an 11-1 six-inning loss to Land O'Lakes. Gators ace Philip Whitten struck out 12 batters and held Gulf to two hits. Zephyrhills has struggled with a young lineup, but look out for sophomores Jake Duffau and Jake Cimorelli, whose respective ERAs are 1.33 and 1.47, combining for 49 strikeouts in 40 innings. Pasco's Death Valley is spacious, but it might be tougher to hit a ball out at Wesley Chapel, where the Wildcats are still seeking their first home run. Freshman Barry Geiger sent a ball to the wall for a double Tuesday against Mitchell and senior Justin Wortley hit a rope to deep center that amounted to a 365-foot out. "It's a big ballpark," said coach Steve Mumaw, who designed the dimensions, including 340 feet to the gaps and 370 to straightaway center.

_ GREG AUMAN

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