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Senior standouts return with something to prove

Hudson righthander Rob Petrucci is ready to claim the title of Pasco County ace.

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2002

GULF -- It was only a preseason city classic, the first trip to the mound of his senior year, but Hudson pitcher Rob Petrucci made an impression on his coach.

"It was a very characteristic outing tonight," Cobras coach Jack Ledbetter said. "I really thought he was in command."

Petrucci's line -- 6 scoreless innings, 2 hits, 4 strikeouts, 2 walks -- is what Ledbetter has come to expect from a pitcher who has been the Cobras' ace since his freshman year, when he recorded three of the team's four wins.

The Cobras have matured as Petrucci has. The team won nine games his sophomore year, then 11 last season, and the senior sees no reason for that progress to stop now.

"After playing with these guys for so long, I know what they can do," said Petrucci, who went 3-4 last year and finished third in the county in strikeouts.

"These guys are capable of more than we've had in the past few years. We're a young team, with only four seniors. They'll be a good team for the next few years coming."

Gone are the days of losing by the 10-run rule -- 23 of Petrucci's first 24 games at Hudson were losses. He feels this year's Cobras are capable of games like their 6-0 preseason win against Gulf on Wednesday. "I feel very comfortable with this team," said Petrucci, who has played with some of his Hudson teammates since he was a 7-year-old in youth leagues.

"This is one of the better teams we've had since I've been around here."

Petrucci has four pitches he can throw with confidence -- fastball, changeup, slider and curveball -- and spent his offseason reading books on pitching and working to refine his mechanics, hoping to improve his consistency late in his starts.

"Sometimes, when I get tired, I get all over the place. I have to focus on that," Petrucci said.

"If someone's going to beat me when I pitch, I don't want it to be because of my mechanics."

In a county that returns few experienced pitchers, Petrucci stands out with three years of varsity experience.

Ledbetter said that advantage will work less in Petrucci's favor as the rest of the county gains experience during the season but said his pitcher has the makeup to "proclaim himself the ace" of the county.

"I don't think it's a lack of talent. I think there's a lack of notoriety," said Ledbetter, who has another solid returning pitcher in junior Bryan Strawser. "Rob throws a lot of hard stuff, has four pitches he can throw and a fastball with a lot of movement."

One advantage Hudson has this season is an easier district -- last year's put them in with Dunedin, ranked fifth in the nation, and Clearwater, which reached the state final four. Petrucci pitched perhaps his best game at Hudson against Dunedin, taking a shutout late into a 1-0 loss.

"That was really painful, but they're a good team, and to hold a big team that much, it's nice," Petrucci said.

While his presence on the mound is established, he scoffs at talk of being a clubhouse leader with a young team.

"Everybody pushes each other. I don't consider myself a leader," Petrucci said. "Everybody helping each other -- it feels like everybody is a leader on this team right now. We don't get down on each other -- our coach pushes us, and our players are always up."

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