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In his first year, Croson batting like a veteran

Ron Croson can't tell you exactly why he hadn't played high school baseball before this season.

Did school work get in the way? Friends? Family?

"I don't know," he said. "I guess I just wanted some free time."

What the Pasco High junior has going into the Class 4A, District 8 tournament at Zephyrhills High School is the county's highest batting average. At .493 (37-for-75), Croson is 28 points better than the No. 2 hitter, Land O'Lakes' Todd Babij.

Croson is no-frills at the plate. He said he doesn't guess what pitches are coming, figuring as long as it's in the strike zone he can swing at it.

And for someone who had played only community-league games, his batting eye is fairly well-developed. He also has a consistent swing. When Croson started hitting home runs _ he has three and 21 RBI _ coach Ricky Giles said he was afraid Croson would start swinging for the fences.

Those fears were quieted when Croson assured his coach, "I only swing for base hits."

Not that Croson couldn't hit for power. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder is well-muscled and can bench press 300 pounds. He said he spends about an hour a day in the weight room at school.

Add the 2 hours and $10 he spends every Sunday at a batting cage in Tampa, and you have a picture of someone serious about his craft.

"I would never have thought he could contribute like he has with the bat," Giles said. "He just came in and, all of a sudden, he started hitting."

Croson also is versatile on defense. He has pitched some, and though Giles said Croson has been clocked at 90 mph, control problems have kept him off the mound since the Dunedin Spring Tournament. He is much more valuable as a utility fielder. Giles said Croson has played third base, first and the outfield.

Croson said he has enjoyed the experience so much he plans to play next season.

The stability of having Croson in the lineup has been important to a team Giles said has spent the better part of the season trying to jell after replacing 10 players off last year's squad that went to the state finals.

Croson said the Pirates (12-11) are ready to come into their own.

"I see it happening," he said. "I think we'll be all right in district. We should win. If we keep our heads right, we'll go to state."

Giles isn't that outspoken, but said his team might be in better shape than if it had gone through the season undefeated.

"Right now we have something to fight for," the coach said. "We know as a team we have to be solid if we're going to go anywhere."

As solid as Ron Croson.


WHERE: Zephyrhills High School.

WHEN: Today-Friday.

SCHEDULE: Today _ Hernando vs. Zephyrhills, 7 p.m. Thursday _ Pasco vs. Central, 4 p.m.; Hudson vs. Hernando-Zephyrhills winner, 7 p.m. Friday _ Championship, 7:30 p.m.

WHAT TO WATCH: Zephyrhills (10-17) comes in as the hottest team, having won five straight. Hudson is the top seed and has sophomore pitcher Chris Way (8-3) and two of the county's top five hitters in Ken Davis (.446) and Derrick Victor (.439). Pasco has the county's top hitter in Ron Croson (.493, 3 HR, 21 RBI). WZHR-AM 1400 will broadcast all Zephyrhills games. WDCF-AM 1350 will carry Pasco games. If Zephyrhills is eliminated, WZHR also will carry Pasco.