DUNEDIN — Since taking over at Dunedin in 2016, Gary Kifer has been trying to build the program into a consistent contender. The blueprint was located 10 miles away.
“East Lake has been the premier program in Pinellas County,” Kifer said. “That’s what we’re trying to emulate.”
After winning just five games in Kifer’s debut season four years ago, the Falcons continued to improve, culminating with a district title — and playoff berth — last season.
The momentum kept going at the start of this season. Dunedin won its first nine games, outscoring foes by a combined 108-20. But the schedule was not exactly challenging. Only one of the first nine opponents has a winning record.
On Tuesday, the Falcons had their toughest test yet — and it came against the program they admired most. The matchup against the Eagles was supposed to be among contenders to represent the North Division in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference title game.
It turned out to be no contest. East Lake won 11-1 to extend its win streak to five.
The difference: scheduling.
The Eagles have already played in two tough tournaments. They did not fare well at the Lady ’Canes Spring Classic two weeks ago, going 1-3. That was to be expected. East Lake had as many as eight players battling the flu around that time. Most are now healthy. It showed last week at the Montverde Academy Invitational, which the Eagles won for the second straight season.
“We pretty much made every mistake in the first couple of weeks, which is exactly what we wanted to do,” East Lake coach Kristie Delk said. “Why do we want to get to districts, and then have something happen, only for us to say, ‘Oh, we’ve never seen that before.'”
In the revamped Class 6A, District 10, the Eagles face a stacked field that includes Mitchell, Sickles, Sunlake and Pinellas Park. To get ready, East Lake front-loaded its schedule with as many quality opponents as possible.
“Dunedin is a much better team,” Delk said. “We respect them. But we’re pretty good, too. And because of all the tournaments we’ve played in so far, we were confident coming into this one.”
The Eagles (8-3) had 16 hits. Brooke Roberts was 4-for-4, and Tori Brennan had three hits and three RBIs.
On the mound, Brennan allowed four hits and had five strikeouts in five innings of work. In the fifth inning, Dunedin’s Kendall Rubel had a run-scoring single to avoid the shutout.
“We want to be like East Lake someday,” Kifer said. “We’ll get there. We’re young (the Falcons started six underclassmen) and we’ll learn from it. This doesn’t diminish what we’ve done so far. We’ve had a great start.”