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At the Hart of CCC's attack

It was an ironic and unplanned sacrifice that would make for a career-encompassing headline: Big brother gets bad break, younger brother gets big break. And so went the passing of the torch between two Clearwater Central Catholic shortstops four fateful years ago.

Just as the district tournament was about to begin, Dickie Hart, the elder of the two siblings, was forced out of the CCC lineup due to a broken wrist suffered while water skiing. Chris Hart stepped in and has been there ever since.

"We put him at shortstop and left him there," CCC coach Todd Vaughan said. "We knew where we were going with our future anyway."

Though he was a freshman at the time and had his brother's shoes to fill, Chris said he wasn't afraid to step in and take over.

"I wanted to," he said.

Tonight, the Marauders play host to Frostproof in a Class 3A, South I Region playoff game and Hart will lead the way _ just as he has for years. He has been the Marauders' leadoff hitter since his sophomore year, and with a .490 batting average this season he is on pace to establish a single-season school record. Still, the Class 3A first-team all-state player isn't quite satisfied.

"I'm still not where I want to be," Hart said. "I wanted to hit .500."

This season, he has utilized his switch-hitting ability more than in years past when he just toyed with the idea. It has paid off as four of his six home runs have come from the left side.

"I'm glad I did it," Hart said. "It lets me see the ball better."

Hart has never really had trouble seeing the ball. Last year he watched nine balls go out of the park as he became the third CCC player to hit nine home runs. That earned him a listing as one of the "premier high school stars in Florida" by Collegiate Baseball.

Teammate Aaron Diehl broke that record with 11 this year, but Hart didn't mind.

Hart realizes he is surrounded by a plethora of talent. He is just one of six hitters who are batting better than .300 (Jeff Probst, Brian Riley, Pete Murphy, Louis Straccioni and Diehl). That is why he, as the only four-year starter, believes a state title is within reach for CCC (18-8).

Hart also has seen time on the mound as the No. 3 starter. He is 4-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 33 innings. Before becoming the regular shortstop, Hart played just about every other postion. Because of his versatility, the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder has a scholarship to play catcher at Florida State waiting.