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BEST BET

WHO: Hudson at Pasco.

WHEN: Tonight at 7.

WHY: The Cobras and Pirates bring near-identical records to this game, both off to impressive starts with strong hitting and pitching. Pasco has experience on its side with a lineup stacked with slugging seniors like Lee Cruz and Anton Standifer, but don't underestimate Hudson's youth. The Cobras are getting more each game from freshman Shannon Eva and now have a healthy Rob Petrucci to bolster their pitching staff. Like last week's Pasco-Ridgewood showdown, which the Pirates won 7-3, this isn't a district game but will certainly play out like one.

THE SCHEDULE

TONIGHT: Hudson at Pasco, Mitchell at River Ridge, Wesley Chapel at Ridgewood, Zephyrhills at Gulf.

SATURDAY: River Ridge vs. Clearwater Central Catholic in Dunedin East Tournament.

MONDAY: Land O'Lakes in Dunedin East Tournament, McKeel Academy of Technology at Mitchell (6 p.m.).

TUESDAY: Hudson at Zephyrhills, Mitchell at Gulf, Wesley Chapel at Pasco.

THURSDAY: Chesterfield (Mo.) Parkway Central at Ridgewood, Wesley Chapel at South Sumter, Springstead at Zephyrhills.

UNDERCARD

It's not the marquee matchup of Pasco-Hudson, but there's a decent rivalry building for tonight's Mitchell-River Ridge game. Much of the Mustangs' lineup either went or would have gone to River Ridge, and despite that, the Royal Knights have been able to lift themselves above .500 in conference play.

Mitchell has been limited by defensive woes but has enough solid starting pitching _ the underrated combo of Tyler Clippard and Mike Reid _ that the Mustangs can hang with teams when their gloves don't let them down. During a three-game stretch last week, Mitchell lost a lead in the sixth and two in the seventh, nearly upsetting Jesuit, Hudson and Land O'Lakes. The Mustangs have only one conference win in eight games, but they sure seem due for an upset.

WHO IS THAT?

Spring break next week means plenty of non-conference opponents, but few will travel as far as Ridgewood's opponent, Chesterfield Parkway Central High, located near St. Louis. Coach Larry Beets said the school used to play Zephyrhills during its annual trip to Florida, but after Bulldogs athletic director Craig Milburn stopped coaching baseball, he referred Parkway to Beets, who has played the team for several years.

1-2 PUNCH

Pasco lifted its team batting average to .355 in the last week, but the team getting the biggest statistical boost was Ridgewood, which put up 21 runs against River Ridge on March 14.

The two prolific offenses simply overwhelm the county stat leaders at the plate, combining for the top eight hitters in RBIs, the top nine in runs scored and six of the top seven in hits. Given the big numbers by the Rams and Pirates in the first half of the season, some of the most impressive hitting has come from the rest of the league, including River Ridge's Jeff Durso, Mitchell's David Coyle and Hudson's Kenny Eva.

LAUNCHING PAD

Two years ago, Zephyrhills set a state record with 63 home runs on its way to the state final four. The Bulldogs' home stadium, John F. Clements Field, hadn't seen a single home run this season until four balls left the park Tuesday in River Ridge's 8-6 win over Zephyrhills.

Two came from Royal Knights senior Doug Kneib, giving him four this year to pull even with Pasco's Lee Cruz for the county lead. The Pirates have 11 home runs to lead the county, while the only teams to hit fewer dingers than Zephyrhills are Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel.

_ GREG AUMAN

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