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Crusaders find groove with eighth straight win, 7-1 over Marauders

TAMPA — It has become a postgame ritual after a Tampa Catholic home baseball win.

Pick up the rakes and the hoses to work the field — and cue Miley Cyrus.

After the Crusaders won their eighth straight game Tuesday, a 7-1 win over Clearwater Central Catholic, TC players looked up to the press box and asked for their song — bubble-gum pop hit Party in the USA more befitting a slumber party of 14-year-old girls — turning the field into a hip-shaking, head-bobbing dance party complete with stirrups and eye black.

"That's our after-game jam," senior second baseman Brandon Mendoza said.

It's fun to be a Tampa Catholic baseball player these days. Tuesday's win extended a string of recent dominance — the Crusaders have outscored opponents 31-2 over their past four games — while making Class 3A-10 a district clearly TC's to win.

"This team has some great chemistry," senior catcher Shane Rowland said. "Some of these guys have been playing together for 10 years. We have a great group of guys."

The Crusaders' balanced lineup is doing its job, but once again the roots of their success was found on the mound. A quartet of pitchers, dubbed the "four aces," combined to hold the Marauders hitless over the final six innings.

"Those guys are unselfish," TC senior leftfielder Hank McCloud said. "They can throw two innings each. They showed that today. We're just going to keep doing our thing and not change anything; just keep on rolling."

Starter Adam Sproat threw the first two — his only mistake a home run to CCC shortstop Preston Packrall in the first. Lefty T.J. Owen then struck out four in the next two frames. Sophomore Derek Martin tossed two perfect innings from there before giving way to lanky righty Ian Ham in the seventh.

"As long as we're winning games, I know we're all going to be happy," Sproat said. "We're going to get our innings in and we're going to stay fresh for when we go into the postseason and try to win a state championship."

For now, Crusaders coach Pat Russo has kept each of his four arms to strict 50-throw pitch counts. He's not sure how long that will — or can — last, especially with a pair of tournaments looming. But for now, it's working well.

"They all have the capability of starting and going distances, but why throw them more than 50 pitches now when it's going the way it's going," Russo said.

Why change now?

Just like their newfound love for Miley.

"Hey, it's working for us," Rowland said, smiling.

Crusaders find groove with eighth straight win, 7-1 over Marauders 03/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 11:50pm]
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