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Palm Harbor could end county drought

It's been more than a decade since a Pinellas County Major baseball team last won the state tournament. This year, the hopes of the county rest on the shoulders of the Palm Harbor All-Stars.

"I don't consider it any added pressure," coach Ed Garton said. "We've been fortunate that our kids play at the AAU level, so we've been playing at a high level of baseball for the last two years."

The last county team to win the state tournament came from Dunedin in 1991. Dunedin went on to win the South Region Tournament, but lost in the World Series.

"The one thing we tell our kids is not to get involved in the hype," Garton said. "If you can do that, you have one leg up on your opponent."

Last year's South Region champion and two-time reigning state champion Apopka will be the first of many obstacles Palm Harbor needs to overcome in order to advance. Apopka received tremendous attention last year after losing in the World Series to Danny Almonte _ the Bronx pitcher who was later caught for being too old.

Palm Harbor will have the added advantage of playing close to home in the state and regional tournament, if it advances.

Junior baseball, Niceville

Dunedin American stared elimination in the face more than once during the sectional tournament. Don't expect to see this squad break a sweat in pressure situations, it all comes with the territory.

The often-overwhelming magnitude of a state tournament is nothing new to these 13- and 14-year-olds. Many of the players were also members of Dunedin American's Section 4 champion Major baseball team in 2000.

"The kids have been there before," coach Mike Trudell said. "It's at the point where winning the district was like, "Been there, done that.' "

Dunedin will reply on a fast-paced running game to throw off its opponents. If leadoff batter Cody Lehasky and outfielder Minner Labrador get on base, they could create havoc for opposing pitchers and infielders.

Dunedin also possesses a duo of pitchers with contrasting styles. Hard-throwing right-hander Josh Paquette had an excellent outing in the sectional tournament, shutting out Northeast 13-0. Southpaw Tyler Schmidt is a soft-tossing location pitcher who shut out Palm Harbor National in the District 12 championship and started the sectional championship game against Citrus Park.

Dunedin has won eight of its last nine games, the only loss coming Sunday in a meaningless 6-5 decision to Citrus Park.

"They were a little overconfident," Trudell said. "We didn't show them the look we were going to show them in the game. They were surprised with our speed and surprised with our pitchers.

"The amazing thing about out team is that we're such a small league, yet they always seem to come through," Trudell said.

Senior baseball, Orange City

Whether they are ready for it or not, the Pinellas Park National All-Stars became the team to beat after knocking off defending world champion Palm Harbor.

"I think the baseball gods were looking upon us," coach Rick Scarlett said.

Pinellas Park had one of the deepest pitching rotations in the county and will rely on its arms to power the team through the state tournament.

Right-hander Ryan Koch had a phenomenal sectional tournament, winning the championship game. Pinellas Park also has two hard-throwing lefties in Kyle Griffith and Sean Johnson.

Outfielders Kyle Scott and Adam Cheesebrew have supplied most of the power. Combined with Steve Mullins and Jimmy Haas anchoring the infield, Pinellas Park players hope the baseball gods continue to smile down upon them.

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