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On mound, at short, at plate, Hartley dazzled

As a testament to her year, in which Hernando reached the state championship game, Chrissy Hartley was selected Florida Athletic Coaches Association Class 3A Player of the Year and was named to the all-state first team as a junior.

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2000


The image on the front page of the newspaper two months ago was enough to strike fear in the heart of any Hernando softball fan. Three paramedics were pulling junior Chrissy Hartley from a car wreck, blood on her white T-shirt, a brace around her neck.

Fortunately, the caption explained that this was merely a demonstration at Hernando High to show students the dangers of drinking and driving. The blood was fake, the brace unnecessary and Hartley was fine, as opposing batters would attest to all season.

And, over the next two months, the Times' All-Citrus/Hernando Softball Player of the Year found other ways to get her name into the newspaper, routinely showing students the dangers of facing her on the mound.

In her first start of the season, she combined with two relievers on a five-inning no-hitter against Springstead, striking out six batters in a row at one point. She trumped that with a six-inning perfect game against Dunnellon on March 15, striking out 13 batters.

In the post-season, her pitching was even tougher. She handcuffed Central with a complete-game one-hitter in the regional final, and followed that with a three-hit shutout against Navarre in the state semifinals in Auburndale.

All this from a player who didn't figure she'd see too much time on the mound before the season started. After all, the Leopards returned two dominating pitchers in Kimi Olmstead and Beth Chatman, and Hartley was content to work on her fielding and hitting while squeezing in an inning or two here and there on the mound.

"I think Chrissy had resigned herself to the idea that she was a shortstop who would pitch a little bit on the side," said coach Ernie Chatman, who had seen Hartley strike out 71 batters in 51 innings as a sophomore.

Hartley saw spot duty as a reliever initially, but as Olmstead struggled to find the same form that saw her win 12 games as a freshman, Hartley was given an opportunity to step in for a start. Fifteen victories later, she would help Hernando come within one win of a state title.

"I started off as a relief pitcher, and when I came in, to his knowledge, I got the job done," Hartley said. "He started starting me, and from then on I just got stronger. I tried to fight for my right to be there on the mound."

Hartley, who made the all-state first team and was honored as the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Class 3A Player of the Year, finished with a 15-2 record and 0.76 ERA. She matched that success at the plate with a team-best 23 RBI and two home runs to go with a .431 batting average in the regular season.

According to Chatman, some of her best work this year wasn't on the mound or at the plate, but in the field at shortstop.

"She made some dazzling plays," Chatman said. "The fact that she's tall (6 feet) makes it more impressive. You don't see plays that athletic and acrobatic very often, but she has great speed and great anticipation out there."

Hartley said she has come a long way from early last season, when Chatman summoned her from the outfield to fill a key role in the Leopards infield.

"I feel like I've come a long way at shortstop," Hartley said. "When he first told me I was going to play shortstop, I was like "No!' I fought it forever, but I got used to it and started doing well. A lot of balls get hit there, so you have a lot of chances to make mistakes and also to make big plays."

Hartley credits much of Hernando's success this season to a closer clubhouse. The same Leopards who bickered and argued in years past were instead laughing and smiling together, allowing for a more relaxed environment more conducive to winning.

Her teammates gave her support on the scoreboard, yes, but more important, they gave her support in the dugout.

"In the past, when I pitched, I was putting it more on myself, getting really down on myself," Hartley said. "Now I'm more relaxed this year pitching, and I think that helped me out a lot. I'd come in after a bad inning and Beth (Chatman) would be right there beside me, keeping me calm, so I wasn't so mad going back out on the mound. That had a lot to do with the team we had this year, the unity within our team."

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