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The struggle to be an ace at the plate

River Ridge co-captain Christine Beck must find a way to balance her success as a pitcher with her performance at the plate.

By STEVE LEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Christine Beck was quite the hitter before she became quite the pitcher.

Now, River Ridge coach Ernie Beck's challenge is to help his daughter excel at both.

"She really concentrated on her pitching a lot (last year), which didn't help with her hitting," coach Beck said. "I just think her focus was different."

Beck, a junior, started at second base as a freshman and made an immediate impact at the plate by batting .356 with five doubles and 28 RBI.

As a sophomore, Beck's hitting dropped off a bit as she became the Royal Knights' ace, compiling a 10-2 record to lead the Knights to a 19-10 season. She also finished with a 1.91 earned-run average and struck out 34 batters.

"She pitched just about every district game," the coach said.

While a .308 average -- .338 excluding tournaments -- with 17 RBI hardly qualifies as a slump, Beck's decline from the previous season can be traced, in part, to where she batted in the order.

As a freshmen, she hit mostly fifth or sixth and often came up with runners on base. As a sophomore, she batted third. This year, Beck will bat either third or fifth in the order.

Stefanie Simon, a sophomore pitcher/shortstop who hit .300 last season, is the cleanup hitter.

With Erin Drekevics (who won seven games for River Ridge last year) now playing for Pasco-Hernando Community College, Beck will once again be the Knights' primary pitcher. But she will remain at second base for her club team, the 18-and-under Tampa Mustangs.

Coach Beck said his daughter must make a decision whether to focus on pitching or on hitting and playing in the infield by the time her attention shifts toward a possible college career.

"For the most part, (colleges have) got you for hitting or they've got you for pitching," coach Beck said. "Right now, she's torn."

Either way, coach Beck feels his daughter has the tools to play at the next level.

"I know she wants to go to college," the coach said. "She definitely wants to go to a school that has a good softball program."

Beck's role on the team goes beyond pitching, fielding and hitting. On Thursday, Beck and centerfielder Adrienne Cicirello were voted co-captains by their teammates.

During the preseason, Beck prodded her teammates to run and conducted calisthenics drills.

"She knows what it takes," the coach said. "When you play travel ball, it's grueling every weekend."

Cicirello, arguably the best outfielder in the county after committing just three errors last season, also has taken charge in the early going.

"I think the girls look up to her and respect her," coach Beck said of Cicirello, who led the Knights in average (.426), runs scored (31) and stolen bases (7).

Aside from being the most experienced returners on a team that was upset by Land O'Lakes in the first round of the district tournament, Beck and Cicirello have something else in common. Each had one home run last year to share the team lead.

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