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Former Tornado pitcher stars at next level

Kristen Keyes, now at Central Florida Community College, was the top JUCO pitcher in the state.

By JOHN SCHWARB

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 6, 2001


The transition from high school to college is not supposed to be this easy.

Or, as Kristen Keyes could say, "What transition?"

This spring, the former Clearwater High and Clearwater Bullets pitching phenom moved on to Central Florida Community College in Ocala and immediately stepped in as the staff ace. From there, she simply reverted to the old form Tornadoes fans grew to love and opponents grew to dread.

As a freshman, Keyes went 31-10 with a 0.51 ERA and 461 strikeouts (all school records and tops among state junior colleges), earning player of the year honors from the Florida Community College Athletic Association and All-America honors from the National Junior College Athletic Association.

"I thought it was going to be harder, but I made the transition well," said Keyes, who went 25-5 with a 0.76 ERA and 275 strikeouts in her last season at Clearwater. "All my goals, I accomplished."

During the Patriots' 45-16 season, Keyes threw seven no-hitters, including four in one week. She also recorded a perfect game (April 3 against Florida Community College), 15 shutouts and 26 games with double-digit strikeouts.

As unbelievable as her season was, her coach's reaction could be classified as equally unbelievable. He expected Keyes to be a lock almost every time she threw.

"I actually did," coach Jeff Franquet said. "I knew from the giddyup that she was a good pitcher. She has the inner drive to succeed."

Such drive not only earned her All-America status, but also a summer trip. Last week, Keyes received a phone call from an Iowa junior college coach inviting her to play on the NJCAA all-star team in the Canada Cup from June 28-July 8.

For Keyes, one of just two players from Florida named to the team, it will be her toughest test yet. The all-JUCO team is scheduled to play, among other teams, the U.S. Olympic team and national teams from China and the Netherlands. "They are the kittens in with the big cats, and they're not expected to win," Franquet said. "There may be times when they get their butts handed to them, but it's great exposure for (Keyes). It's pretty neat."

After returning from that trip, Keyes begins what appears to be an even greater task -- preparing to avoid a sophomore slump. When you rewrite the entire school record book as a freshman, the bar is set plenty high. Yet Keyes still aims higher.

"I look at things, ways I can improve myself," said Keyes, who has talked to several SEC coaches about playing after CFCC. "Maybe if I keep lifting, I'll be stronger. Maybe if I pitch more, I'll perfect more pitches.

"I'm not going to be satisfied with whatever happened this year."

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