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Pirates are in an 'unbelievable' position

A team that was 7-21 a year ago, is 25-4 and expecting more than a district championship.

By KEITH NIEBUHR

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001


For Crystal River, there is more at stake in tonight's 7:30 game at Dunnellon than the Class 3A, District 6 Tournament title and a first-round playoff date.

"This is an opportunity to take the next step," said first-year coach Brent Hall.

The Pirates have taken several steps this season.

After going 7-21 in 2000, Crystal River is 25-4 following Wednesday night's 9-0 win over South Sumter in a district semifinal -- a game in which junior pitcher Clayton Trenary tossed a one-hitter.

"It's unbelievable to be 25-4," senior Ryan Lindeman said. "It's unreal, really."

Hall's first glimpse of his team came not on the baseball diamond but on the football field, where as an assistant for the school's team he spent day after day last fall with what he calls "the nucleus of the baseball program."

"I watched the way they worked every day, and they had great comraderie, which was something special," Hall said.

"Teaching the game of baseball is not that hard. Teaching them the proper way to carry themselves is. (Ex-Crystal River football coach) Earl Bramlett and (current Crystal River coach) Jere DeFoor had already schooled them at that."

From the outset, it was clear that the Pirates were a different team than what they had been last year. In their fourth game, they beat Dunnellon 7-5, and in doing so handed Tigers ace and University of Florida signee Tommy Boss a rare defeat.

"After that game, I was thinking, "We have a shot at (the district title),' " Lindeman said.

The wins kept on coming.

During the regular season, the Pirates lost only to Hernando in their fifth game, two ranked teams in the Fernandina Beach Invitational over spring break and Atlanta Westminster Academy. More often than not, they won by comfortable margins, thanks in large part to a pitching staff that boasts a 0.92 ERA and a batting lineup that is hitting .434 and has an on-base percentage of .484.

"Last year, we had the pitching, but we couldn't score," Lindeman said. "We didn't have the hitting."

This season, Crystal River has both, and a coach in Hall who thought early on that the Pirates could challenge for the 3A-6 championship.

"Last year is now in the past," Hall said. "We're not that team anymore."

The Pirates' turnaround has been remarkable, but in Dunnellon they face a team that is more than capable of ending their district title dreams. The Tigers (18-9), who lost two close games to Crystal River during the regular season, beat Citrus 3-2 in eight innings Wednesday night to reach the final.

Because Dunnellon threw Boss against Citrus, it most likely will go with Jarod Harder, who pitched well in three innings of work against the Pirates last month.

Crystal River will counter with 6-foot-4 junior Will Bleakley, who after not being able to pitch during the first half of the season because of an arm injury is 3-0 with a 1.24 ERA.

"Bleakley would have been our No. 1 guy, but he was hurt," Hall said. "He's got the best stuff of anybody we've got. I feel great with him (on the mound). He's the guy we want out there. He's been dominant."

As have Bleakley's teammates. That is why one season after being kept out of post-season play, the Pirates are within a win of becoming district champions.

"We're real excited to be in the final," Hall said. "We respect what Dunnellon has done and we respect their history. But we expect to win. We're not hoping to win, we're expecting to win and taking that next step."

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