Besides calling the pitches for freshman Tiffany Harbin and whatever other pitcher the Gamecocks send into the circle at the Louisville softball regional, the junior catcher will be tested by the Bears’ propensity for stealing bases.
Cal has stolen 89 bases (in 103 attempts) this season. More than half have come from the two hitters at the top of its lineup, left fielder Jamia Reed (.428 BA, 29-33 SB) and shortstop Britt Vonk (.414, 25-29). And when they get in scoring position, they most likely score, combining for 82 runs.
“I have to be on my toes and set the tone early,” Crow said. “Because they’re going to run, they’re going to steal, because they have doubts that I’m not going to be able to throw them out. I’m just going to have to set the tone early and the first one who runs I’ll have to throw her out. They may think it’s a fluke and (she’ll have to) throw the second one out. Then, maybe they’ll realize they can’t run.”
Crow has been up to the task so far. In a game where pitchers can’t keep runners close by throwing over, she has thrown out an OVC-leading 20 runners (in 48 attempts) this season. The four best base-stealing teams in the league were only a combined 5 for 10 against her.
Against UT Martin, the runningest team in the league, she threw out Chelsea Cary in the fourth inning of the series opener and the Skyhawks didn’t attempt to steal on her the rest of the weekend. When she gunned UAB’s top base-stealer Caley Walden in the third inning of their nine-inning non-conference game earlier this month, it was the first time this year the Blazers’ blazer had been caught all season (19 attempts).
The Bears (39-10) are ranked 20th nationally in stolen bases per game. Individually, Reed is 12th and Vonk is 53rd.
“I like looking at (the numbers) because it lets you know there is a challenge,” Crow said. “There’s always a challenge in a game, but a challenge for me personally to throw them out and help my team out if they get on.
“This is probably the most I’ve faced all year that they’ve actually stolen and were successful.”
JSU coach Jana McGinnis compares the Bears’ running ability to that of Tennessee the year the Gamecocks won the Knoxville Regional. The Lady Vols had “unbelievable” stolen base numbers going into the event, she said, and swiped four bases on them in the championship doubleheader. But the Gamecocks got the last laugh, winning both game to advance to the Tuscaloosa Super Regional.
The best strategy to keep the the Bears from running is the simplest of all -- don’t let them get on base in the first place. And if they do reach and run, cut them down early. It’s likely Crow won’t have to wait for the Bears to test her if they do get on. The scouting report says they like to go on the first pitch.
“I just know if you throw a runner out and prove you can throw people out, not many people will run on you,” she said.
By the same token, the best way for the Gamecocks to reach stingy Bears pitcher Jolene Henderson is to get on the bases themselves. The sophomore right-hander with a nasty changeup doesn’t allow many base runners — her ERA is 0.81 — so it getting on gets her out of her comfort zone. She has allowed only 182 hits and 81 walks/HBP in 277 innings. Five of her seven losses were one-run games, and three of those were 2-1.
“She’s a very good pitcher, a Pac-10 pitcher, so you know her mistakes are going to be far and few,” McGinnis said. “But, hey, hopefully, we can take advantage of one mistake. In our game, one mistake can totally change a game.”
Get past Cal and the Gamecocks (39-19) have a chance to stick around a while, similarly to the regional they were in at Knoxville. Illinois-Chicago is 25-22 and host Louisville is 36-18.
“You’ve got to take care first things first,” McGinnis said, “but, wow, if we can get through Cal, yes I do think the other teams are gettable. Now, we’ll have to play our best, but you’re exactly right.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.