By JOHN SCHWARB
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 6, 2001
EAST LAKE -- The conditions were tough enough for hitting. But to also have to face the reigning All-Suncoast Player of the Year?
Talk about your bad Mondays.
East Lake ran into undefeated Countryside and a rejuvenated Crystal Crews, hanging tough but losing 2-0 on a windy, chilly Monday fit for a low-scoring affair.
Crews and relief pitcher Bree Spence struck out 16 batters over seven innings in the win, limiting an Eagles team to two hits that has had its fill of tough pitching in the past week.
"We've struggled at the plate," East Lake coach Bob Hudson said. "You get behind one or two runs, that's a lot when you're not producing at the plate."
The two runs Monday proved too much to overcome, and Countryside (12-0 overall, 3-0 Pinellas County Athletic Conference North Division) scored both in the fifth inning.
The frame started out promising, as Brooke Johannessen singled and courtesy runner Rachel Ruge advanced to second on an Amy Allen bunt.
Ruge stole third and Erin Brunt walked, then Jenna Davis ran for Brunt and stole second. But with the two runners in scoring position, Kattrina Dowd grounded to third and got Ruge in a 5-2-5 rundown between third and home.
Nonetheless, after the play, runners remained on second and third and Heather Hodges brought both in with a single up the middle.
"She's been coming through all year long," said Countryside coach Scott Kitchen of the senior second baseman.
Those two runs were all the Cougars needed as their pitchers dominated. Crews took the mound for the first time in two weeks after nursing a sore hip and showed no ill effects, striking out the first five hitters she faced and 10 overall in just four innings.
Her first strikeout of the second inning, on high heat to Erica Weaver, was the 500th of her career.
"That's what I was really looking forward to in this game," Crews said.
Crews gave up a leadoff single to Katie Greeley in the third inning, and Greeley took second on a wild pitch. But the senior hurler paid little attention to her and proceeded to strike out the side.
Spence was just as tough in the final three innings, striking out five of the first six batters she faced while allowing just one hit -- again, a single to Greeley.
For East Lake (2-3, 1-2), it was a second consecutive near-impossible assignment. Last Tuesday, the Eagles faced Palm Harbor University and ace Katie Dobson, and managed just one hit.
The Eagles did, however, get a good look at perhaps a future ace of their own, freshman Ally May. Making her first start, May went the distance and scattered five hits while walking only one and striking out six.
After giving up a leadoff single to Crews in the second inning, May struck out the side, and with two on and one out the following inning, May retired Hodges on a popup and struck out Carly Brieske.
"I knew she was a good pitcher," Hudson said. "She kept nice control, gave up a few hits but kept her composure, and especially against a team that's 12-0, that's a big thing.
"I'm real excited about getting her some more innings this season."