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Strikeouts not enough

Riverview ace Beth DiPietro is keeping the Sharks alive with strikeout after strikeout, but she needs help from a slumping offense.

By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2002

Riverview ace Beth DiPietro is keeping the Sharks alive with strikeout after strikeout, but she needs help from a slumping offense.

It is a subtle sign of Beth DiPietro's talent but a telling one nonetheless.

Ask Riverview coach Angela Slater about DiPietro's great night and her response is simple but portentous.

"That depends on which night you're talking about," Slater said. "She's had a lot of great nights."

And thus begins a list of accomplishments that would make for a great season -- or prep career for that matter -- not just the first 11 games of a junior year.

At the top of that list is the March 1 game against Gaither in which DiPietro came within a bunt single of pitching a perfect 11-inning game. For the record, that means 34 batters, no hits and no walks.

She struck out 28 that night and scored the only run in the bottom of the 11th when she hit what was essentially an inside-the-park home run, though it was scored a single and a three-base error as the ball rolled through the leftfielder's legs.

Four days later, there was a 2-0 loss to Bloomingdale (her second of the season) in which she struck out 14. On March 8 she struck out 21 in a three-hitter against Sarasota. She scored the only run of the game that night also, crossing home in the bottom of the 13th on Melissa Krenn's single. The next night she struck out 10 in a six-inning win against East Bay.

DiPietro has struck out 18 twice this year and carried a no-hitter into the final inning against Durant, only to give up a single with two outs.

In fact, a no-hitter seems to be the only highlight missing from DiPietro's resume this season.

But the game everyone wants to talk about is ...

"Gaither," DiPietro said, without letting the question finish. "That night it seemed like the game was going so fast. Then it was slowing down when we came up to bat because we weren't scoring any runs."

Like most games this season, DiPietro was looking at the scoreboard, hoping for some runs on her team's side. What the Sharks have on defense and what DiPietro brings to the mound is equalized by the team's lack of offense. The result is a lot of extra-inning games in which Riverview squeaks out 1-0 wins.

Through their first 11 games, the Sharks were averaging more than eight innings per game.

"We have three games a week but we're averaging four because of all these extra innings," DiPietro said. "But I think we're going to come around. We work a lot on hitting."

Added Slater: "We know we can't outscore people. We kind of hope our defense and pitching neutralizes their offensive power."

DiPietro has certainly done her part.

Through 11 games she carried a 9-2 record with 162 strikeouts in 86 innings. She struck out fewer than 10 only once (a loss to Chamberlain in which she tallied three) and is on pace for career highs in wins and strikeouts.

But none of this is new to DiPietro.

She broke onto the prep scene with a 17-4 record and 166 strikeouts her freshman year. She pitched the final eight games of the season and recorded the final out as the Sharks won their first state title in 2000.

DiPietro has been a member of seven national championship teams with the Tampa Mustangs, her summer travel team, and is looking at colleges throughout the Southeast.

"It's rough to keep up with," admits DiPietro, reading off of a bio sheet she sends to colleges, listing her accomplishments.

With all due respect to her star pitcher's rare abilities on the mound, Slater credits a lot of DiPietro's success to the heavy scouting and charting Riverview does for each game.

The Sharks have binders with hitters' profiles, where they like the ball, what they did the last time they faced Riverview and what kind of pitches DiPietro and Co. threw.

Slater calls every pitch from the dugout and DiPietro puts the pitch where she needs to in order for it to be called a strike.

"Every pitch is designed with defense in mind," Slater said. "What we want is what the umpire is calling. We chart all our pitches and call all our pitches. Sometimes we have some disagreements, but the big thing is we're still working on communication."

Still, even Slater had to admit the Gaither game was something one doesn't see often.

"When you go through 28 batters like that it looked real easy," Slater said. "She was in a groove."

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