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Plenty of pitchers look to lead locals to Legends

By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer
Published May 9, 2004

Districts are over, the games really count now and coaches quickly are preparing for what they hope are the five most important games of the season.

Many times the key to a team playing five games - and thereby playing for the state title - as opposed to ending the season early is pitching. The teams with more depth in that area stand a much better chance of playing at Legends Field the last week of May.

Luckily for local baseball fans, pitching this season is one of the county's strong suits.

Eight pitchers (spread over six teams) finished the regular season with earned-run averages lower than 1.00.

Alonso and Plant own two pitchers in that group and were, not surprisingly, two of the most successful teams in the county.

The Ravens finished district runners-up but will advance to the state playoffs for the first time in the school's three-year history.

That is due in large part to Matt Stephenson (7-0-1, 0.88 ERA) and No. 1 pitcher Mike Harley, who entered districts with a 6-1 record and a 0.92 ERA.

Plant is led by J.R. Dunaway with his 7-2 record and 0.79 ERA and Johnny Williams, who is 6-2 with a 0.89 ERA.

The Panthers have three other pitchers who can come in at any time and shut almost any team down, an asset coach Bo Puckett is looking forward to as he tries to lead Plant back to the state tournament for the first time since 1990.

"They're all neck and neck," Puckett said. "They're almost interchangeable."

That group doesn't even include Jesuit's Mike Branham, who may be the most overpowering pitcher in the county.

Or No. 2 J.J. Crumbley, who blends his change of speed with different arm angles to baffle hitters.

Branham finished as the county's strikeout leader (134 in 652/3 innings), and Crumbley won his eighth game (against one loss) in the district final Thursday night.

RETURN OF THE CHIEFS: They don't own a lopsided won-loss record.

They don't dazzle you with large margins of victory.

But Chamberlain is back in the playoffs and, if it seems as if the situation is familiar, you're right.

Two years ago the Chiefs entered the district tournament with a losing record, surprised everyone by qualifying for the region tournament and then appeared in the state tournament where they lost in the semifinals. Tuesday will be Chamberlain's first appearance in the playoffs since.

[Last modified May 9, 2004, 01:40:27]


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