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New coach brings link to Pirates' playoff past

By CAREY FREEMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 17, 2002

CRYSTAL RIVER -- How do you follow up a season in which your team finished one game short of the state final four?

In the case of Crystal River, you bring back the one person who has taken you further. That would be Lanna Hough, the gritty and gifted pitcher who hurled the Pirates to third place in the state in 1997.

After playing a year at Santa Fe Community College then moving on to the University of Central Florida, which didn't have a team, Hough is back where it all started. She replaces coach Laura Wingate, who resigned last spring after leading the Pirates for seven seasons.

"Lanna is a great young lady who I think is going to be great in that position," said Crystal River baseball coach Brent Hall, who also is Hough's mentor. "She has a love for the game and she's played the game," he said. "The one thing she needed from me was a little direction on managing practice and organizing things." From where Hough stands, it's a little bit more than that. She has seen what Hall has done for the Crystal River baseball program and is determined to create the same kind of energy in softball.

"He's taught me everything," Hough said. "I'm his worst nightmare. I'm there in his office every day. They started a week earlier than we did, and I went out and watched him every day."

Hough has benefitted from a handful of mentors in a lifetime of playing softball, but three stand out:

Hall, who has shown her the finer points of running a top-flight program.

Her father, Lanny, who coached her in Little League and whose likable demeanor always has made him a favorite of players.

And Mike Hampton Sr., another of her Little League coaches and the father of the Colorado Rockies hurler, who instilled in Hough a fierce desire to win.

"She's really good," Pirates shortstop Ashley Williams said. "We all get along with her. Not that we didn't get along with Coach Wingate, but she kind of interacts with the kids a little more."

It may help that Hough is not that far removed from her players. It was just four seasons ago that Hough led the Pirates to their only appearance in the fast-pitch final four. Hough's secret wasn't power, but accuracy and an intense desire.

She posted a county-best (tied with Citrus' Gina Reynolds) 21-4 record and a 0.96 ERA (second to Reynolds and Lecanto's Michelle Rowe), while allowing just six hits in 31 games. Hough also batted .357 with 16 RBIs, numbers surpassed by only a handful of players on the North Suncoast.

This season she inherits a team that is much like the one she led in '97. The Pirates return seven starters off the squad that lost to Hernando in last year's regional final, and have added one of the area's best pitchers in Lecanto transfer Emily Bayer.

Throw in a coach who knows what it takes to get there -- as a player and a coach -- and Crystal River would appear to be in good shape for another run deep into the playoffs.

"After my first year at school, I knew I wanted to come back and coach," Hough said. "I'd say I'm pretty close to these girls. I've known a lot of them since they were little."

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