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Preps

Powerhouse Plant inspiresquiet confidence

Coach Bo Puckett has a deep and experienced team that appears ready to make a run for the state tournament.

By SCOTT PURKS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2003


TAMPA -- Bo Puckett sat in the dugout Monday afternoon as his team did something that might prove him to be a prophet.

The Panthers took the field and started workouts without Puckett saying a word.

Plant catcher Ryan Hudson explained it a few minutes later: "Coach told us last year that the day he didn't have to tell us what to do was the season we would go to the state tournament.

"So, I guess we'll see."

From reviewing the lineup, it's apparent a prophet isn't needed to predict the Panthers have a strong shot at a state tournament berth.

Check out the pitching.

Senior ace left-hander David Gandy is stronger than ever after going 10-2 with an 0.96 ERA in 2002. Ken Wadsworth returns as the No. 2 starter after saving a school-record 11 games.

Just behind them are Scott Tolbert and Johnny Williams, who throw in the high 80s.

"They all have strong qualities," Hudson said. "And they give us confidence.

"But I have to say our hitting is what might be the most improved part of our game. We have strong hitters throughout the lineup."

So how about those hitters?

Up front is first baseman Andrew Kuykendall, who led the county in hitting last season with a .525 average. As a sophomore.

Then there's Hudson, centerfielder Corey Brown, third baseman Tony Zitek and second baseman Alberto Castellone, who all hit better than .300 last season.

And fielding?

No problem. Ricky Delrosal is the new starting shortstop, and though his arm might not be as strong as that of graduated Alejandro Castellon, Delrosal's hands and range might be better.

Brown takes over for last year's Plant most valuable player, B.J. Suggs, but that shouldn't be a problem, either. Brown has been rated by several scouting services as one of the top junior prospects in the country.

Attitude?

As mentioned earlier, attitude doesn't appear to be an issue.

"These kids know what they want and they want to work to get it," said Puckett, who mentioned six players with grade-point averages of 4.0 or higher. "This team is a coach's dream in every way. They all like each other and play well together, and they don't have to be told what to do."

Hmmmm, Puckett the prophet ...

Has a ring to it, doesn't it?

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