|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
April 1, 2004 -- Krissy Cotten decided she liked running around the bases more than around a track, and her legs may give the Sulphur Springs Lady Cats a lift in their mission to get to Austin.
Cotten, a senior outfielder for SSHS, sees most of her playing time on the infield -- more specifically on the base paths -- because she is used by coach John McCullough as the courtesy runner for either the pitcher or catcher.
She has used her speed to steal nine bases, third on the team, and score 14 runs, which is tied for the team lead. She combines her outstanding track speed with baserunning savvy to become a threat for the Lady Cats.
The Lady Cats have played nine games so far this season which have been decided by two runs or less. That margin of victory becomes even more magnified in the playoffs, said McCullough.
"Krissy's role is vital. In the games we have throughout district and the playoffs, one run can mean the difference between winning and losing," he said. "If we can use her speed to get us one run, that's very important.
"The closer you get to the playoffs and once you get in the playoffs, it comes down to one run, usually. When you get to those games, you know you're playing for one run. Just the fact she has such great speed puts pressure on people."
Cotten didn't play last season as she concentrated solely on track. This year, she is devoting most of her time to softball, though she still plans on running at the district track meet. She has been clocked at 11.7 seconds in the 100 meters, good enough to send her to the regional track meet as a freshman.
"Last year, I took the year off and ran track, but I decided I liked softball more than track," Cotten said. "Most of all, I like the girls. I've played with them all for a long time. And I like running bases more than I like just running around a track.
"The reason I came back is because I missed it. I thought I'd just run track because I might could get a scholarship in that, but I missed softball too much."
Softball is a family venture for Krissy. Her younger sister, Kay Lee, is a pitcher on the JV Blue team, and she has an older sister, Kinsey, who played for the Lady Cats two years ago.
"That's one of our family events, like on Sundays, instead of staying in watching movies or something, we're outside playing softball. We're a very outside-oriented family," she said. "We just get all our family members, cousins and everything. We'll call them up, adults and kids, and go to the ball field and play."
That kind of experience helps Cotten on the varsity level. McCullough said her base-running smarts are another reason he can depend on her.
"Coach McCullough tells me that I've got to be aggressive, but I've got to be careful, too," she related. "I've got to make them think, so maybe they'll overthrow the ball. But, I have to be sure not to get out because I'm an important runner."
When she's not a courtesy runner, Cotten will also play right field, but it's a position already manned by three-year varsity letterman Cristie Dixon and hot-hitting senior Crystal Smitherman.
The three of them have really rounded into separate, yet vital, roles on the team. Smitherman's bat has planted her as a designated-hitting run-producer in the middle of the lineup, while Dixon is the predominant starter in right.
"In their individual roles, all three of them have stepped up and are being productive for us," McCullough said. "They have different roles and they all have performed them very well."
Dixon has made a number of nice running catches, and her throw home from medium-depth right field against Lorena in the Arlington tournament preserved the Lady Cats' 1-0 victory.
Smitherman, meanwhile, has been unable to play in the field due to a hip flexor injury, but that hasn't slowed her down at the plate. She's hitting over .500 in the last seven games and had three RBIs in the victory over Greenville on Tuesday.
"Crystal, being the DP (designated player), has really caught fire," McCullough said. "She's seeing the ball well and driving the ball, especially early in games. She's really been a key hitter for us in district.
"Really, all three of them have done a great job, and we're a better team because they're playing."