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Coach: Crystal River up for regional

By CAREY FREEMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


CRYSTAL RIVER -- For all the strikeouts and all the hits and runs she produced, Hernando's Chrissy Hartley failed to do one thing in Friday's 2-1 district championship victory over Crystal River.

Hartley did not finish off the Pirates.

Despite the loss, Crystal River's heart beats as strong as ever -- its momentum curtailed briefly by Hernando's player extraordinaire -- as it looks forward to its first playoff win since making the state final four in 1997.

"No way are we down," Pirates coach Laura Wingate said of her 13-15 team. "We're going to win (tonight). (Santa Fe) played Hernando just as tough as we did, and I think we can do it. We've got to hit the ball, but I think Chrissy pitches as good or better than anything we're going to see in the playoffs."

Judging by their most recent performances against the Leopards, ranked third in the state poll, the Pirates and Raiders (21-9) are dead even. Neither was able to do much with Hartley in 2-1 losses.

However, if Santa Fe does have an advantage, it's in post-season experience. The Raiders have qualified for the state playoffs in each of the last nine seasons, making it past the first round each time. The big hang up for them seems to be the regional final, which they never have won.

"I've talked to the Hernando coach (Ernie Chatman), who has played us both, and I'd say we're pretty evenly matched," Santa Fe coach Loretta Shane said.

Crystal River, meanwhile, is going strong after the momentum it built in consecutive shutouts over Wesley Chapel and rival Citrus, which had defeated the Pirates three times before Wednesday's semifinal loss.

Though Citrus committed seven errors, Crystal River must be given credit for pressuring the Hurricanes to make plays -- something they were unable to do in a 7-0 loss.

Then there was Friday's effort against Hernando in which the Pirates had three runners reach third base but were able to steal one run against the Leopards when Tiffany Goode stole home in the fifth inning.

"I don't know how the girls feel, but I think we did pretty good," Wingate said. "We made one error, but you've got to give us credit for getting three runners to third. We also stole three out of three times, but we still needed to try to put the ball in play more."

Crystal River will continue to go with its two-pitcher rotation of Krystle Cummings and freshman Cassie Pearson, who held Wesley Chapel and Citrus to just five hits in the first two games of the district tournament.

The Raiders, meanwhile, can choose from two solid pitchers in senior Heather Purvis (9-4, 1.32 ERA) and junior Jessica Brady (12-5, 0.62 ERA, 123 strikeouts). Purvis is a leader on offense with a .322 average and a team-high five triples. Junior shortstop Lizzy Dinardo tops Santa Fe at the plate with a .392 average and 15 RBI.

Wingate expects a close contest and has tailored her game plan accordingly.

"I think we just need to be aggressive on the bases: steal when we have the opportunity, bunt and run when we have the opportunity and use the squeeze if it's there," she said. "If we need to steal home again, then that's what we'll do."

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