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There's a powerful reason she's the best

Countryside's Crystal Crews has eight pitches (18-2 record) and a free-swinging bat (.437 average) in her arsenal.

By PETE YOUNG

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000


Eight pitches, one swing.

That juxtaposition sums up the success of Crystal Crews. The Countryside junior is one of the area's top pitchers, and part of the reason is her repertoire of eight pitches (yes, eight).

Crews also is one of the area's top hitters.

In a sport of bunt-and-run specialists, switch-hitters and slap-hitters, Crews knows only one way to do it: take a mighty rip, a la Mark McGwire, every time.

When Crews the versatile power pitcher is combined with Crews the single-minded power hitter, the sum of the parts is the Times All-Suncoast Softball Player of the Year.

Again. Crews, the Suncoast player of the year in 1999, was superb in 2000 as well.

On the mound, she was 18-2 with a 0.54 ERA, 154 strikeouts and 21 walks in 129 innings thanks in part to her wide variety of pitches.

What are the eight pitches?

"Are you ready?" Crews said. "Riseball, dropball, curveball, screwball, slider, splitter, back-handed changeup and knuckleball."

Countryside catcher Erin Brunt, like most people, doesn't have eight fingers on her right hand, so Crews and Brunt have developed a series of signals to indicate both the pitch and location.

"I guess it can get complicated," Crews said.

At the plate, using her prodigious swing, Crews hit .437 with 36 RBI and 6 home runs.

"They can bunt and slap as much as they want," Crews said. "I like to hit."

"Whenever she's up there, there's always a chance she could hit a long one," Countryside coach Scott Kitchen said. "She's just a threat."

Amazingly, Crews is just a few years removed from the middle school girl who couldn't crack the lineup on her youth softball team.

"I sat on the bench my first two years playing in Safety Harbor Little League. I didn't like it, not at all," Crews said. "That's when I realized I really wanted to do something (with softball). You just don't tell me what I can't do. It just made me mad."

Crews has channeled that frustration into hard work, which has led to success. She has devoted herself to softball year-round, playing first for the Clearwater Bullets and now the Clearwater Bombers club team as well as taking pitching lessons about once a week.

After two sensational years, what can Crews do for an encore her senior season? That's easy: lead Countryside to the state tournament.

The Cougars, ranked No. 2 in the state in 5A for most of the season, were stunned by Plant 4-2 in the region final. The Panthers touched Crews for 12 hits, far and away her worst performance of the year. In her other 19 starts, she averaged fewer than three hits allowed.

Crews hopes to play softball for many years to come. Scholarship offers will be plenty, and she'd like to go to a four-year school out of state. Beyond that, making the Olympic team is her dream, and she'd like to coach on the college level.

Though Crews is highly motivated, the empty feeling brought on by losses in the region final the past two years has her striving for more.

"Overall, we did good this year. But I really want that state title, and we didn't get it," Crews said. "Is that the goal for next year? Definitely."

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