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Pirates have reputation to uphold

Since Lecanto won the state title in 1996, Citrus County teams have excelled in the post-season, making five trips to the regional final and qualifying for four final-four appearances. It's up to Crystal River to maintain the string.

By CAREY FREEMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 2, 2000


CRYSTAL RIVER -- Whether they know it or not, coach Laura Wingate and her Crystal River softball team have a reputation to uphold in tonight's Class 3A, Region 2 quarterfinal at Hernando.

For four years running -- dating back to Lecanto's 1996 state championship -- Citrus County teams have excelled in the softball post-season, making five trips to the regional final and qualifying for four final-four appearances.

Now, in what most would concede was a down year for the county's softball programs, the Pirates are the only team standing -- and the only one with a chance to continue the streak of success.

The question is: Can the Pirates (11-10) carry that load?

Wingate would like to believe they can. Though they have lost three times already to Hernando, they do appear to have pulled a little closer to the Leopards (23-3) in their last meeting, improving from a 7-1 loss early in the season to a 3-1 defeat on April 20.

"We have nothing to lose," Wingate said. "We're the underdogs, so we might as well give it our all."

To do so the Pirates will have to come up with a significantly better performance at the plate than they displayed in managing only three hits in a 4-0 loss to Dunnellon in Friday's finals of the 3A-7 tournament.

Facing Crystal River in tonight's game is Chrissy Hartley, who struck out 11 Pirates the last time the teams faced each other. Hartley brings in an 11-1 record as a starter with a minuscule 0.52 ERA. However, she may be an even bigger threat at the plate, where she leads the Leopards with 21 RBI and is one of three players -- including Katye Altieri and Kimi Olmstead -- batting over .400.

"Out of all the pitchers they've thrown against us, she has racked up the most strikeouts," Wingate said. "I think Hartley is the better pitcher, but both (Hartley and Olmstead) are pretty powerful and both have a nice rise ball.

"We know (Hartley's) target areas and we're going to try to make her put the ball where we want it, a grounder in the infield or something like that. We'll mix it up on her. But she's definitely a pretty good player and she can hurt you."

Then again, Crystal River also has some batters capable of putting runs on the board. The most formidable -- and very capable of hitting a ball out of Hernando's Tom Varn Park -- is Melissa Coburn, who is batting a team-high .462 with 16 doubles and four home runs. She is the only Pirate batting over .400, but there are three more -- Jessica Wilroy (.380), Jamie Colegrove (.345) and Courtney Schulker (.302) -- batting over .300.

On the mound, the Pirates will rely on the two-pitcher combination of Schulker and Krystle Cummings, who teamed up to allow four runs on seven hits to Dunnellon. Three of those runs -- and the loss -- were charged to Cummings, who gave up two runs on three hits in a particularly rough third inning. Schulker came in at the top of the fourth and allowed just three hits the rest of the way.

Wingate wasn't sure which one would start or whether she would use the tandem again tonight.

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