Nary a hitch in their step at the end

Hernando's senior runners cap careers with a stellar showing at state.

Published May 1, 2007

Before the start of the boys 4x800 relay at the Class 2A state track championship Saturday, Ernie Chatman had a message for his runners.

"I told them, 'Just give Ben a chance to run at somebody, ' " the Hernando coach said.

Ben, of course, is Ben Martucci, the Leopards' senior runner who placed second at this year's state cross country meet and who has anchored the 4x800 relay team all track season.

Hernando's first three runners - Drew Martucci, Chris Martin and Joe Wright - heeded that advice, and by the time Ben cruised across the finish line with a 1:57 final lap, he had passed all but one of his opponents.

The result was a second-place finish, school-record time of 8:03 and a perfect sendoff for one of the most successful class of runners in the program's history.

"It's one of those things where you get a bunch of special kids together and you hope they take advantage of it, " said Chatman, the school's long-time coach. "I think they've taken advantage of it."

Chatman will readily admit he hasn't the foggiest notion of how Hernando will fare next year. Gone, of course, are the Martucci twins, who have paced the squad for much of the past four years.

Ben will go down as one of the top runners in school history, having complemented his relay performance with seventh-place finishes in both the 1, 600 and 3, 200 last year, he placed fourth in the 1, 600, third in the 3, 200. But the departure of seniors like his brother Drew, and Martin, and Tyler Baldwin and Tyler Champagne also will hurt.

"It's been a good three years, four years for most of them, " Chatman said. "Not only these three or four, but all the rest of them."

The Martuccis and Baldwin will run at Florida Southern next year. But on Saturday, their focus was on the present.

"It's your last race, " Ben said. "You want to take advantage of it."

David Murphy can be reached at dmurphy@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1407.