By CAREY FREEMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2001
INVERNESS -- At the time she was nothing more than a plebe, a rarely used freshman whose major duty was to occupy a spot in the Citrus dugout and be available in case of disaster.
While Tabitha Schrufer was little more than a bit player in Citrus' run to the 1998 Class 5A final four, she used her bench time wisely.
Schrufer watched and learned from then-senior Gina Reynolds (now at Stetson) and junior Laura Helt (Pasco/Hernando Community College) and her admiration grew.
"Freshmen were pretty much treated like dirt then," Schrufer said. "They never really talked to me much, but Gina and Laura became role models for me. I've always wanted to be like them. I wanted to be as good as they were and have the confidence they have."
That season Schrufer went from a player who liked softball to a player who lived softball.
She began pitching nearly every day. She took lessons from the same coach (Ray Carver) who taught Reynolds and Helt.
More importantly, she learned valuable lessons about winning and the benefits of dedication, qualities that have made her the foundation for Citrus' success this season.
"She's not a loud, dictating type of leader, she leads quietly and leads by example," Citrus coach Scott Waters said. "It doesn't matter what we're doing, whether it's a game or practice or raking the infield, she always gives us 100 percent."
The early lessons have served Schrufer well. They were invaluable last summer when Schrufer led her Inverness All-Star teammates to the Senior League World Series and they have come to the forefront again in the last two months.
Thanks, in part, to Schrufer's attitude and stoic leadership, Citrus has righted its ship and is positioned for what its fans hope will be a championship run.
Citrus is back to its winning ways after struggling to a 5-4 mark to start the season.
The Hurricanes (14-5 entering Thursday's game against 16-1 Hernando) have won nine of their last 10 games as the team -- which carries nine members from the Inverness All-Stars -- has finally begun to gel.
That's especially good news for Schrufer, a finesse pitcher who relies heavily on her defense.
"I'm not an overpowering pitcher and I don't rely on strikeouts, Schrufer said. "I just try to give them a pitch that will get them out. If I can get (Hernando standout) Chrissy Hartley to pop up to center field, that's good."
No matter what happened against Hernando, Schrufer and her teammates will be up for tonight's rematch with Lecanto.
Since the two teams are not in the same district, this will be Citrus' last crack at avenging a crushing 4-3 loss to the Panthers in the fourth game of the season.
Citrus held a 3-1 advantage in that game entering the sixth inning, but squandered the lead after making four errors in the sixth. Even Schrufer was off in the later innings, surrendering a one-out triple and a game-winning single in the bottom of the seventh.
"Unless you are a D-I team or some select traveling team, you're going to make errors," Schrufer said. "So, it's not so much the errors as it is the timing. Against Lecanto the first time we committed some errors in crucial spots and that hurt us. It's the same thing with pitching. Giving up a hit isn't really a problem. What hurts is when you give up two hits in an inning."
That hasn't happened often this season, especially in recent games. Even when it does, Schrufer is not one to hang her head and feel sorry for herself.
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