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Hudson's late-season woes mount

By JOHN COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 25, 2000


Jack Ledbetter said he knew there would be bumps in the road in his first season coaching the Hudson baseball team. A few potholes. Some wrong turns.

But this?

Now?

In the past five days, Ledbetter has seen: the heart and soul of his team go down with what will likely be a career-ending injury; his best pitcher -- and hope for a district playoff upset -- hurt his valuable right arm; his second-best pitcher quit the team after some inschool problems unrelated to the team; and his junior varsity ace leave town on a family vacation planned months ago when he was, well, just the junior varsity ace.

Bumpy road? Nope, not this -- this is a mountain, and Hudson has slammed right into it.

Just in time for tonight's CLass 4A, District 6 opener between Hudson and Tarpon Springs.

Ledbetter is crushed, but still optimistic.

The Cobras have achieved great things this year, considering they were 1-24 at one point last season.

They have won four more games than last year, came within a seventh-inning, face-saving home run by Danny Wardell of beating mighty Zephyrhills, and last week beat Ridgewood for the first time in at least four seasons.

Heading into the district tournament, there was momentum.

But this?

Now?

Paul Przepis has been Hudson's glue, a kid who dislocated his shoulder during football season, fought back to play baseball, dislocated the shoulder again in the preseason and fought back again. He couldn't throw a ball across the infield after his injury, but he worked hard enough to finally get back on the field at second base.

Even with a bum shoulder, Przepis did not hesitate in laying out for a looping hit behind first base last week. A warrior, as Ledbetter calls him, would not pull up to save himself.

Przepis has said he would give an arm to play baseball, and he apparently is trying to do so. The shoulder went again. This time, worse than the others. This time, a two-inch separation.

And yet, Ledbetter is already bracing for when Przepis comes to him to beg for a spot in tonight's lineup, even as just the designated hitter.

Likewise with ace Rob Petrucci, one of Pasco County's most promising sophomores.

Petrucci was hit by his own foul tip while bunting in the Ridgewood win, flush off his right shoulder. The arm tightened until he could pitch no more.

He threw Monday at practice. He looked good. But Ledbetter said he was sore. That's enough to scratch him from tonight's opener.

Ledbetter refuses to ruin a kid's arm, and now he has two players -- two good kids, inspirational players -- with bum arms who will plead with him to play.

"That puts me in a tough spot," he said.

On Friday, Chris Elswick, a junior who was the No. 2 Cobras pitcher and a good one, walked into Ledbetter's office and turned in his jersey. It's nothing the coach wanted to talk about, but it had something to do with a school problem, and Elswick's frustration with that problem.

Ledbetter had worked with the player all season long, trying to unlock his potential and lock up the fire. He thought he had made progress. Thought he was getting closer. Thought with Petrucci and Elswick, that maybe ... just maybe

Junior varsity ace Dave Rusha has only been around the varsity team a short while, but his performance against Ridgewood in the final inning in relief of Petrucci -- a bases-loaded strikeout in the bottom of the seventh of a 12-10 win -- showed he had mettle. Ledbetter liked that.

But Rusha won't be the hero again. This is spring break week, a piece of scheduling enough to make every county a baseball coach kick clay on whoever is responsible. Rusha's family had long ago planned a family trip, to which the youngster was committed. Any other week, this vacation is an afterthought.

"We're in real bad shape," Ledbetter said. "I'm down to using pitchers that have not been used too much."

Like Mark Wilty, who has but one win over Wesley Chapel. And Jeremy Lees and Andy Greggs. Guys that Ledbetter wouldn't normally turn to, but will now.

With complete confidence.

"You can tell by what I've said we're down, but no one's laying down. I expected a bumpy road as a first-year coach and I'm feeling them now. Maybe we've gone off the road. But the kids are responding well. We are not having a complete team breakdown of any kind."

But this?

Now?

Hardly seems fair.

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