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Metz, Bunch of support pivotal

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 12, 2002

First things first.

Crystal River's baseball team is for real. The Pirates proved that by advancing to this week's Class 3A final four at Legends Field in Tampa. Any doubt about whether they could play with the big boys has been erased.

Now that we've established that, it's time to move to the next question: Can Crystal River win it all? You bet, and here are five keys.

1. Jimmy Metz has to be on: You've heard of this kid, right? The right-handed senior is 12-1 with a 0.74 ERA. He has 120 strikeouts and 27 walks in 73 innings. Metz has a solid fastball and several potent breaking pitches. In 14 postseason innings, he has allowed 7 hits and 2 earned runs.

Metz is a competitor who appears to live for big moments. He likely will start Wednesday's game against Bartow, and that gives Crystal River about an 80 percent chance of winning.

Metz has a .475 batting average and plays a pretty mean third base when he isn't on the mound. Few area players are this complete. Even fewer can control a game like he can.

2. The "other guys" have to perform: Metz gets the pub, but William Bunch (5-1), Will Bleakley (1-0), Zac Cole (6-0), Ryan Starkey (4-0) and Clayton Trenary (2-1) give the Pirates plenty of pitching options.

If Crystal River wins Wednesday, look for Bunch to get the nod in the final. The irony of the state playoffs is that the championship game almost always is a battle between No. 2 starters. Bunch hasn't pitched in many big games but has a calm demeanor, which should keep the butterflies at a minimal.

3. The defense must be sharp: The teams that win championships are the ones that make the fewest mistakes.

Errors played a role in each Crystal River loss and nearly cost the Pirates in the region final against Eustis. They booted two balls in that game, had a passed ball and a play in which two guys ran into each other on what appeared to be a routine popup. The latter mistake allowed Eustis to score the tying run in the sixth.

The defensive leader of the infield is first baseman Marcus Galvan. He and Metz are the only infielders to not make an error in the postseason. The key is the performance of second baseman E.J. Gerrits and shortstop Jonathan Runnels. They need to make the routine plays and convert double-play chances.

Crystal River's outfield of Kyle Griffin, Scott Miller and Starkey is one of its strengths. All three are fast and can get to most fly balls. The dimensions at Legends Field are much greater than those of a typical high school park. With more open space for balls to drop, the Pirates' athleticism could help.

4. The bats must come alive: After batting .416 in its first 32 games, Crystal River had one hit off Eustis starter Justin Smith. The Pirates have tightened up in more than one big game this season, and that is a major concern. Another one-hit effort and they can forget about winning.

Production from Galvan, the cleanup hitter, is a must. He's batting .509 but has struggled in recent weeks. Galvan had four strikeouts in the regular season and has five in the postseason. If he finds his swing, look out. Because of the large power alleys at Legends Field, Galvan, who has 19 doubles, could do some real damage.

5. Have fun and play loose: Jitters are to be expected, but once play begins, the Pirates have to treat these games like they have the previous 33.

Crystal River got to Tampa by playing aggressive and with confidence. That shouldn't change. The stakes are higher, but it's the same game.

-- Times staff writer Keith Niebuhr can be reached at 860-7337 or niebuhr@sptimes.com.

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