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Central Hardin senior Alex Crowder wears his emotions on his sleeve. Maybe that helps cover up the battle scars and bruises from his reckless abandon style of play.
Crowder plays the game with a youthful exuberance, but with the wisdom of a seasoned veteran. He goes back to his early day when he loved to get dirty. It doesn’t matter if it’s a grass stain from a diving catch in the outfield or sliding headfirst into a base causing a cloud of dust that would make Pig Pen jealous, he’s leaving with part of the field on his uniform.
Crowder plays hard — as his dirt-covered uniform would suggest — but he plays smart. He has become a leader of a young outfield, taking charge when he sees fit. He’s also worked hard to become a good hitter after moving up in the order this season. Crowder, who is blessed with good speed, knows when he can take an extra base and when to not press the issue.
Crowder is an emotional lightning rod, not afraid to speak his mind, yet he knows when to put his arm around a teammate to offer encouragement. When the Bruins were in a funk in the 5th Region Baseball Tournament semifinals, it was Crowder’s fiery passion who gave the team an emotional lift.
“I think Alex brings a lot of good things to the table,” Central Hardin coach Todd Thompson said. “He’s a spark plug. He cares about his teammates and it shows with the way he talks to them. He’s a true competitor and plays with a passion you can’t teach. He’s big for our team.”
The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Crowder is exactly what every successful team needs. He might not be the star of the team, but he’s the one every player follows once he says something.
“He’s not afraid to speak his mind,” said Central Hardin senior Troy Squires, who also played basketball with Crowder. “You don’t know what’s going to come out of his mouth. He’s emotional, but he’s always there to pick us up when we need it.”
Trailing 2-1 to Bethlehem in the region semifinals, Crowder drew a walk in the fourth inning and turned to the dugout on his way to first to scream “Let’s go.” He took third on an errant pick-off attempt and scored on junior Troy Riggs’ single. The next inning, the Bruins erupted for six runs en route to an 8-4 victory.
In the championship game, Crowder went 2-for-4 with four RBIs to help Central Hardin cruise to its fourth consecutive region championship.
Without Crowder, maybe the Bruins still win, but with him, their odds increase dramatically.
“I’m emotional and I’m quite vocal,” Crowder said. “I’m going to always get my teammates pumped up. I’ve always been an emotional player. That’s how I play.”
Crowder’s play is one of the reasons the Bruins (32-5) are heading to the 2013 Forcht Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament. They play Lone Oak at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington.
After batting .419 with six doubles and three triples in the ninth spot in the order, Crowder shifted to the leadoff spot. Prior to the 17th District Baseball Tournament, Thompson inserted Crowder in the fifth spot and then moved him back for the region final without Squires.
Crowder is hitting .375 with two homers, one double and one triple. He is third on the team in runs (38) and fourth in RBIs (20). Crowder is also one of the team’s best base runners with 15 stolen bases.
“Alex does a lot of things well,” Thompson said. “He can hit for power or he can drop down a bunt. He can steal bases. There’s not too many guys that can go from leadoff to the five spot. Whatever role he’s in, he relishes.”
Crowder hovered around .400 for most of the season but went in a slump near the end of the year. Thompson said part of it might have had to do with the change. Crowder, though, showed signs of coming out of it in the region tournament, going 3-for-8 with three runs and five RBIs.
“It helps going into the State,” Crowder said. “In the district tournament, I was swinging at a lot of first pitches. Everyone’s going to go through a slump. I’m glad I got it over with before State.”
When he entered the program, Crowder originally was a shortstop. With Squires locked in at that position, Crowder began transitioning into the outfield. He started in left last season before taking over for the graduated Cannon Ray in center this year.
“I love playing center field,” Crowder said. “There’s nothing like running down and catching balls and diving after balls.”
Thompson said Crowder is a natural fit in center field with his speed combined with his arm strength. What has impressed Thompson is how Crowder has become the boss of the outfield.
“I like how he takes charge out there,” Thompson said. “He’s not afraid to call guys off if he thinks he can get there. That’s what you want from your center fielder. It was a no-brainer to move him there because he’s a good athlete with good speed and a very good arm.”
Through the years, Crowder has seen his role transition from one season to the next. He was mainly a courtesy runner two years ago, scoring 43 runs. Last year, he moved into the lineup, becoming a role player, and now he’s become an integral piece of the lineup.
Crowder, one of the holdovers from the 2011 state championship team, has become the voice of the Bruins. It’s a role that fits Crowder’s personality, but more importantly, it’s exactly what the Bruins needed, an emotional leader to step up when times get rocky.
“It’s something I’m comfortable with if the team needs me,” Crowder said. “These last four years have been a blessing. Not a lot of teams can say they’ve been there four straight times and won a state tournament one of the four years. But we still have unfinished business.”
Just like Crowder to speak his mind.
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or email@example.com.