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Tom Varn tournament allows early assessment

The annual Tom Varn Invitational, hosted by Hernando High, features all four local schools and is named after one of the most influential coaches in area history.

But it has been quite some time since a team from the county actually won the darn thing.

On Friday, Springstead became the first county squad in six years to participate in the championship, but fell 8-1 to Ridgewood.

The last time an area team won a Tom Varn title was in 1999, when the Eagles beat Land O'Lakes. That also was the last time an area team appeared in the final.

But, according to county coaches, the tournament was still a success.

"That's what the Tom Varn tournament is all about, to get some competition flowing early," said Hernando coach Tim Sims, whose Leopards lost to Ridgewood in the semifinals.

The biggest positive for area teams is they faced some decent competition, particularly Ridgewood. The Rams now have appeared in four straight Tom Varn title games, two of them wins.

"There are a lot of teams in the state that will say this, but if there is a better-run high school program in the state than Ridgewood, show it to me," Sims said.

Springstead realized that in the championship, but Eagles coach Frank Vitale also came away impressed with his team.

"The one constant was that we had real good pitching over all three games," he said.

Senior Andrew Melton picked up two wins in the tournament, pitching two innings of relief in Springstead's first-round win over Mitchell, which ended in the bottom of the seventh when Tommy Dwyer scored on a wild pitch.

Hernando got a couple of strong performances from senior Brandon Vanderford, who recorded a save in the Leopards' first-round game and started and pitched five innings in a consolation loss to Gulf. With five errors in its semifinal loss to Ridgewood and four errors in one inning in the consolation game, the Leopards had some fielding miscues.

Sims, however, summed it up in two words: "It's early."

SPRING TRAINING ENDS FOR CENTRAL: The tournament gave Bears coach Dan O'Rourke a chance to evaluate his squad. The Bears used a split squad for their games, the highlight of which was a 6-5 eight-inning win over Mitchell in their second game. Said O'Rourke: "We got a lot of guys some looks."

ODDS AND ENDS: The "Crime Dog" should be in town this week. Former major-leaguer Fred McGriffis an assistant coach with Tampa Jesuit, which faces Hernando on Wednesday. With four games in the next seven days, Nature Coast has a good opportunity to shake off its 0-2 start.