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Plant's Ippolito swings a big bat

He may have been nervous. It was hard to tell. He was not shaking. The only sweat came from the intense Florida heat. But on the inside, it was a different story.

Inside, Louis Ippolito felt the pressure, but would not let anybody know it. He, too, had doubts whether he could adjust to playing at Plant after transferring from Bayshore Christian.

Would it be tougher at this level? Could he perform the way he did the previous year? Was the pitching that much tougher?

Those questions were answered very early for Ippolito. The very first pitch Ippolito saw at Legion A tryouts cleared the outfield fence. So did five of the next seven.

Talk about a confidence boost.

"Some people come out nervous (to tryouts), but Louis came out hitting," said Plant coach Pat Russo, who also coached the Legion team Ippolito played for over the summer.

Ippolito leads a potent Plant offense that will take on an undefeated Tampa Bay Tech team, heading into tonight's game with East Bay, Saturday at Tech.

Ippolito, a junior, comes off a year in which he hit .636 at Bayshore Christian, a Class A high school. But questions were raised whether he would be able to hit the higher caliber of pitchers at the 5A and 6A level.

"The pitchers are definitely faster (at this level) and the ball breaks more than I saw last year," Ippolito said. "I have had to change my approach to hitting. Last year I just went out to mash the ball, but now we work on things like situational hitting. It has helped me become more of a hitter."

More of a hitter indeed.

Through Plant's first nine games, Ippolito is hitting a team-best .577. He leads the team with four home runs and is second with 11 RBI. His .577 average trails only Tech's Steven Williams for tops in the county, among 4A-6A schools.

"I always knew Louis would be a good hitter when I coached him a couple of summers ago," Russo said. "But I never imagined he would get off to this good of a start. He can hit to all fields and now he does a great job for us every time he steps up to the plate."

Stepping up to the plate is all Ippolito has had to concentrate on in the early going. He was a catcher last year at Bayshore but has spent most of the season as the designated hitter, with some play at first base. Not having to split his concentration level by playing defense has improved his hitting.

"It has been easier to concentrate and get totally into the game," Ippolito said. "I can cheer on the guys in the field, then when I step into the on-deck circle I tell myself, "Now it is my turn to show off what I can do.'


"With Garret (Garcia) at catcher this year (and next) we will try and work him at first or third base for next year," Russo said. "We will see if we can get a place in the field where he can concentrate on hitting. But wherever he gets the chance to swing the bat, he will be successful."

Ippolito has shown success in another area _ power. His four home runs have given him a knack for the longball. Last season he hit just one home run, in his last at-bat in district play. His power outburst has been something of a pleasant surprise.

"The ball is just jumping off my bat so far," Ippolito said with a shrug.

With the ball springing off his bat, Ippolito has earned the cleanup role in the batting order, a position he has held since March 11. His .500 average with runners in scoring position hasn't hurt either.

"I told myself that this was like any other game," Ippolito said. "It was like, "This is Plant, so what.' I took it head-on and did not let anything get to me."

Now Ippolito is heads above what anybody, including himself, expected.