Pirates think big
By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
CRYSTAL RIVER -- Crystal River coach Brent Hall has no problem making bold predictions.
Last year at this time, he said the Pirates, who went 7-21 in 2000, would compete for a district title. They went 25-6 and reached the final.
He is talking big again.
The second-year coach says the Pirates have the talent to compete for a state championship. The program has not won in the playoffs since 1946.
"This team will be as good as it wants to be," Hall said. "If we stay away from injuries, we have enough high-caliber players to go deep into the playoffs."
Hall has reason to be optimistic.
The Pirates return the bulk of their top players, added all-area pitcher Jimmy Metz via transfer and have a good group of young players who moved up from last spring's 22-3 junior varsity team.
"I don't feel like we have any holes," Hall said. "We've got depth. We've got defense. We've got pitching, hitting and speed.
"We're solid Nos. 1 through 15. Every kid can play."
Two Pirates, Metz and first baseman Marcus Galvan, recently signed with Central Florida Community College, one of the state's top programs.
Will Bleakley, Ryan Starkey and Clayton Trenary are likely to earn scholarships before all is said and done. Trenary and Bleakley are being recruited by South Florida, which had coaches at Crystal River's preseason game Friday night.
Metz could be the key ingredient last season's team lacked.
The right-handed pitcher, who has a fastball clocked in the low 90s, will be the Pirates' No. 1 starter. He was Lecanto's top hurler in 2001, but moved to Crystal River for personal reasons last summer.
"He gives us the ace on the mound we desperately need," Hall said.
William Bunch, Zac Cole, Bleakley, Starkey and Trenary give the Pirates one of the region's top pitching staffs.
Hall believes Bunch and Cole, both juniors, are probable draft picks for 2003. Trenary, a TPX Louisville Slugger preseason All-American, was the ace last spring, but will spend most of his senior season playing catcher.
"Defensively, Trenary is great," Hall said.
Infielders to watch include Galvan, E.J. Gerrits (second base) and junior shortstop Jonathan Runnels, who potentially could be the best of the bunch.
Runnels, named to the Baseball Coaches Association preseason All-American team, is being recruited by Stanford.
In the outfield, Bleakley, Scott Miller and Dana Robbins are the headliners. Bleakley is one of the North Suncoast's top returning hitters.
"This team is a lot more talented and athletic than last year's team," Hall said. "They have to prove they have the same heart."
During the summer, most of Crystal River's roster played for the team that captured the Dixie League state title.
That proved to Hall the Pirates could beat quality competition.
"They were playing against predominantly college players," Hall said.
Crystal River's success in the past 12 months has raised expectations. The Pirates welcome this because they are confident big things are on the horizon.
"Last year, we learned how to win," Hall said.
"We've got to take it a step further this season."
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