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A Hurricane, the hurricanes and more

Times staff writer John C. Cotey picks his top five Pinellas County prep stories for 2004.

1. Hurricanes

One was bad enough. Two was unfair. Three was just crazy. Four was obscene.

The procession of hurricanes this fall not only threatened our coastlines, but they nearly turned the 2004 football season into the 2004 water polo season. The first week of the season was postponed, to be made up between two other weeks, until another hurricane caused more shuffling. Eventually local football teams had to play six games in five days, or something crazy like that.

Pinellas County activities director Walter Weller was pretty nifty with the rescheduling, and though we're still not really sure how he did it, all was well in the end.

2. Dani Hofer

There was no more brilliant, dominant athlete in Pinellas County last year than the Palm Harbor University softball pitcher.

Granted, pitchers that dominate aren't that unique in high school softball. All the great teams have one. And that's pretty much all it takes in many cases.

But Hofer was better than great, especially down the stretch. She whiffed 22 against Countryside in the district final, then 21 of 22 Cape Coral batters in her next game.

In the region final, with the right to go to the state final four on the line, she struck out 17 Cougars. In the state semifinals, she struck out 20 Niceville batters, then capped her season by beating mighty Naples with 13 more Ks.

3. Brittany Lincicome

In November 2003, the home-schooled Seminole High golfer was putting the wraps on her second straight state championship.

Eight months later, she was leading the U.S. Women's Open after one day.

Leading the U.S Women's Open.

Are you kidding?

Lincicome didn't just take advantage of poor play by the pros, or feast on bad weather, or rise to the top with a series of fluky shots. She fired a back-nine 30 to tie the tournament record en route to 5-under 66, matching the lowest round ever by an amateur.

Though she came down to earth the next day and eventually finished well off the pace, Lincicome qualified for her LPGA card later in the year, showing she might just be here to stay.

4. Lakewood wins PCAC

These Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship games are rarely worth the hype. Teams rest their best players because districts are right around the corner, and rarely do coaches seem that interested in doing whatever it takes to win.

That doesn't mean some surreal moments don't arise, however. Take last year's boys basketball final between Lakewood and Clearwater at Eckerd College.

The Spartans vs. Tornadoes was the matchup in boys hoops in 2004, and spectators had to be turned away as the game sold out. But a funny thing happened on the way to an exciting, up-and-down shootout featuring the county's most electrifying teams.

Lakewood grabbed an early lead, then held the ball, trying to force Clearwater out of its zone. The Tornadoes refused. And everyone sat around.

For 11 minutes, Lakewood held the ball. In the end, the Spartans won. By 31-23.

5. State titles

for Tarpon Springs girls soccer, Countryside wrestlers Dominic DeNunzio (top right), A. Jay Hixon (right, second from top) and Wes Walker (right, third from top), Admiral Farragut boys basketball, Palm Harbor University softball, Northside Christian girls golf, St. Petersburg Catholic 800-meter runner Sam Secord (bottom right) and Admiral Farragut diver Austin Hampton.