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Cole returns to Crystal River

By KRISTEN LEIGH PORTER
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 15, 2003

Zac's back.

While the news Crystal River's Zac Cole has returned to the mound is good for the Pirates, not so for their opponents. Cole started Saturday's game against Lecanto, his first since March 21 vs. Citrus, and threw six solid innings.

"This team's been built around Zac this year, and Zac's our star," coach Brent Hall said. "We stuck together and battled through the season without him, and we're very happy to be 18-4, having missed him for a month."

Hall said there was a small spot in Cole's back that was tight all the time, and they didn't want to jeopardize his future.

About two weeks prior to Saturday, Cole started picking up the ball again and did some ground work, not throwing off the mound.

"We just wanted to do the right thing for Zac, so we just made sure he was 100 percent," Hall said.

Cole (2-0) has 38 strikeouts and a 2.43 ERA in 23 innings. He has allowed just three extra base hits.

William Bunch is 8-2 with a 2.08 ERA and area-best 63 strikeouts. Richard Covey is 5-1 with a 2.10 ERA.

Jonathan Runnels (.508, 23 RBI), Tim Embree (.440, 28 RBI), E.J. Gerrits (.435, 19 RBI), Bunch (.359, 15 RBI) and Kevin Lanier (.311, 16 RBI) have been getting the job done offensively.

After losing three in a row, including Wednesday at Citrus, Crystal River defeated Hernando and Lecanto. But Hall said the Pirates never thought they were in a slump.

"We played a couple of close games and had to stick a couple guys out there who weren't really ready for those type of games," Hall said. "But we've got the best record in this area, and you're going to have a couple losses."

The Gulf Coast Athletic Conference champs play host to Wildwood today.

LECANTO: The Panthers were 6-13 entering Monday's game against Belleview but proved they were a program on the rise in losses to Crystal River on Saturday and Citrus on Friday.

Coach Brian Donovan said his team is peaking at the right time and if the Panthers can learn from it and move on, they will be in a good position come district time.

"We've got some guys no longer in the program, so we're struggling to find the same lineup everyday," Donovan said.

"Our kids realize we can compete and it's not where you are four weeks ago, it's where you are two weeks from now going into the districts," he said.

Highlights from the two county matchups included a sensational catch by centerfielder Chadd Martin in robbing Crystal River's Jonathan Runnels of a home run.

"Chadd made the play of the year, there's no doubt," Donovan said. "He's made 3-4 plays like that this year going away from the ball. He's just a great athlete."

Donovan praised Stephen Laquerre, who had a two-run double against Citrus and an RBI triple against Crystal River. "He's doing the job," Donovan said. "We made an adjustment on him. He's been striding into the pitches and putting the ball in play but jamming himself. He opened up a little bit and is getting his barrel in the zone."

Saturday was the Joe Rigney Jr. Memorial Bat Game between Crystal River and Lecanto, which honored the former Lecanto player who died in a 1993 car accident.

CITRUS: The 'Canes (10-13) hope to build from last week's wins over Crystal River and Lecanto.

"Right now we're win one, lose one, win one, lose one," coach Jon Bolin said. "In order for us to compete in the district tournament, we have to get more consistent, period."

The 'Canes have been getting from Keith Zigler, who homered against Lecanto on Friday. He's batting .359 with a team-high 23 RBIs.

"Zig's swinging the bat real well," Bolin said. "I think he's comfortable in the order where he is. He's starting to do some things differently that he didn't do at the beginning of the year, to see his pitch a little bit better and be able to turn on it."

Darrel Brooks (.400, 20 RBI), Brendan Smith (.327), Ross Keesling (.320) and Luke Czerwinski (.292) have been producing. On the mound, Czerwinski is 4-0.

But it's the "one inning" that the 'Canes have given up in some games which has been responsible for several losses. "It's just getting these guys in the frame of mind that they got to come out and play everyday no matter who's in the dugout," Bolin said. "It shouldn't have to be a Crystal River in the dugout to get them to play."

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