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PREP SOFTBALL: Krupinski standing tall for Central Hardin (06/05)

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By Nathaniel Bryan

 

By NATHANIEL BRYAN nbryan@thenewsenterprise.com CECILIA — If her softball career ever floundered, Kristina Krupinski would seem to have a nice standby profession as a poker player. When she’s in the pitchers’ circle for the State-bound Lady Bruins (24-13), the sophomore-to-be hardly ever smiles. “She very rarely shows any emotion. If it is, it’s the determination kind of emotion. She doesn’t get rattled out there very easily,” said third-year Central Hardin coach Mark Martin. “Usually, it’s all-business until the game’s over. Every now and then, if you try hard enough, you can get a smile out of her. I tried the other day when she got the first hit. I literally took my fingers and made a smiley face and I finally got a little grin out of her.” Thing is, Krupinski is far from no-smiles type of gal. “She’s a happy young lady,” Martin said. “But when she’s on the field, it’s all business.” Lately, business has been superb for Krupinski, who is 15-4 with a 0.89 ERA heading into Friday’s showdown with second-ranked North Laurel (33-6) in the KHSAA Softball State Tournament at Jack Fisher Park in Owensboro. In the Lady Bruins’ five postseason games, Krupinski has posted three shutouts and has not allowed an opponent more than three hits. She’s averaging less than four hits per appearance. As good as Krupinski’s been for the Lady Bruins, what she’s done lately hasn’t been that much different than what she did when she first entered the circle. Last year, Martin gave Krupinski a trial by fire against perennial power Paducah Reidland in the Meade County TSOA Tournament. To Martin’s surprise, Krupinski didn’t pitch like the lanky eighth-grader she was. “That was one of our first clues right then that she was going to develop quicker than most kids do,” Martin said. “She came into the Reidland game and kept us in it against a team that was ranked in the top five at the time. We wound up getting beat, but even then, nothing rattled her during that game. That was definitely not an easy situation to come into and not ideally where you’d like to throw a promising young pitcher in her first varsity outing, but we kind of had to.” Krupinski doesn’t quite have the same memory. “I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “It was a lot different than JV. I was pretty nervous that day.” Nerves since then have been few and far between for Central Hardin’s ace, who expected to be the Lady Bruins’ No. 3 this year behind returning senior hurlers Cassandra McCullough (9-8) and Cortney Gunning (0-1 with one save). But since the postseason began, the only pitcher Central Hardin’s needed is the say-little, allow-little freshman. “(Entering the year) I figured Cassandra and Cortney would get most of them (innings) and then every once in a while, I’d go in just to give them a relief,” Krupinski said. Krupinski has gained attention for her pitching prowess, but her offense isn’t far behind. Krupinski was the only Lady Bruin starter not to reach base in their two 17th District Tournament games, but she’s still batting .297 with a team-best 20 runs batted in. She’s third on the team with 35 hits (31 singles, four doubles). “She’s grown and gotten stronger. She’s starting to fill out into her frame a little bit and mature physically. She can look me in the eye and I’m 6-feet tall,” Martin said. “With her long arms, pitching and hitting both, she doesn’t have to be muscle bound because she’s got that natural leverage. When she puts the bat on the ball, she’s starting to hit it very hard. And she’s only going to get stronger and better.” Because of her size (she’s 5-foot-11), her statistics and because she plays on a team which features six senior starters, Krupinski is usually thought of as an older player. Take the 5th Region Tournament for example, when Martin had a run-in with Campbellsville coach Dale Estes, whose team was two-hit by Krupinski. “He knew that we had several seniors. He said, ‘What grade is your pitcher in?’ I said, ‘Freshman,’” Martin recalled. “He just dropped his head and shook it.” “We’ve gotten some funny looks before,” Martin added. In addition to her build, two things that help Krupinski is the veteran part of the battery and her accuracy. In senior catcher Samantha Faulkner, Krupinski has someone who started at State as an eighth-grader. “That’s good because she’s been back there awhile and I’m confident she’s going to get everything I throw no matter where it is,” Krupinski said. Because of Krupinski’s placement with her pitches, Faulkner said she rarely worries about having to catch whatever Krupinski hurls her way. “She never leaves it over the plate. And if she does, it’s a changeup so they’re off-balance,” Faulkner said. “She’s good. She doesn’t ever hang it. At all.” Krupinski’s accuracy has helped her rack up a walk-to-strikeout ratio of nearly 3-to-1 (89-to-32). “The thing she’s always done well, even last year as an eighth-grader, is she hits her spots,” Martin said. “She’s got better than average velocity as it is, but even when you have average velocity, if you can hit your spots, then you can get people out. That’s been the biggest key to her success.” Sure it is. But a stone-cold poker face hasn’t seemed to hurt. Nathaniel Bryan can be reached at 505-1758