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Cougar dominated on two levels

By JOHN SCHWARB

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 3, 2001


It is Monday, and you are a county softball player. Friday, you play Countryside.

It is Monday, and you are a county softball player. Friday, you play Countryside.

She will be pitching for the Cougars, and you know it.

Strike one.

You start preparing in the batting cage, moving the pitching machine on its highest setting. She can bring it that fast and that consistently.

You think about her at school, at home and during most of the game Wednesday against another team. One game at a time? Coach mentioned that, but the cliche goes in one ear and out the other.

Friday, you play Countryside. Your job is to grab a bat, stand 40 feet from Crystal Crews and avoid becoming another statistic.

Strike two.

You know the task is nearly impossible, but even worse is Crews knows you know. All that's left to chance is which one of her nine pitches will send you back to the bench.

Strike three.

"I do feel kind of bad because I feel like I'm being a bully," Crews said. "But there's nothing I can do about it."

For three years running, that has been about what opponents have mustered against the senior -- nothing. Consequently, for the third consecutive year, the pitcher stands above all others. Make no mistake, with a 22-1 record, 0.24 ERA and 217 strikeouts in 143 innings, Crews dominated at an even higher level than her sophomore and junior seasons. But her true greatness can be measured not only by her accomplishments, but by what other teams went through just to prepare for her.

"It's fun to get these coaches that crank their pitching machine up all the way and think, "If we do this, it'll work,"' Crews said. "But you can either do it or you can't do it. That's just the way it is."

Crews said she got no pleasure from the many 10-0, 10-plus strikeout games Countryside sped through en route to its 32-1 season. Close games were what she lived for, and she excelled in those as well -- including a 12-inning thriller over Palm Harbor U. in March that kept the Cougars on pace for No. 1 rankings in state and national polls.

"You could see when you had big games that she was perhaps a little sharper," Countryside coach Scott Kitchen said. "You couldn't necessarily see that from her last game (a 5-0 regional semifinal loss to Chamberlain), but she was generally more focused in the big games."

Such focus earned her a scholarship to Georgia Southern. While the distance from the mound to the plate will literally change (colleges play at 43 feet), figuratively, Crews will cover the space in her usual manner, with a combination of speed and location that will challenge batters' physical and mental capabilities.

Only this time -- for a while at least -- opponents will not know what to expect from the right-hander. In college, the pitching machines are always cranked up, and no one will stay awake at night fearing a freshman. But with a wry smile, Crews vows to make the same sort of impact in Statesboro, Ga., that she made in Pinellas County.

And no one here can doubt it.

"Oh, if I know Crystal, she'll be the center of attention next year," Kitchen said. "I don't even know what they have coming back, but I'll bet she takes on the bulk of their pitching."

Strike one.

Introducing: Crystal Crews

FUTURE COLLEGE: Georgia Southern

INTENDED MAJOR: Sports medicine.

PITCHES (9): Fastball, dropball, riseball, curveball, screwball, splitter, slider, backhanded changeup, knuckleball

FAVORITE FOODS: Italian and seafood

FAVORITE MOVIE: Days of Thunder

FAVORITE MUSIC: "Whatever, as long as it's not oldies."

FAVORITE ATHLETE: Dot Richardson

By the numbers

(Year, Rec., ERA, Ks, Avg., HR, RBI)

1999, 21-4, 0.66, 209, .484,9,46

2000, 18-2, 0.54, 154, .437, 6,36

2001, 22-1, 0.24, 217, .390,3,27

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