ASHEBORO — When Macie Crutchfield enters the circle on the softball field, fans, coaches and even players know they are witnessing someone special. Someone very special.
With an arsenal of just four pitches, the Southwestern Randolph High School sophomore right-hander has been nearly impossible to hit over her varsity career and even harder to score on. Her numbers during her first two seasons have been as impressive as any high school pitcher could hope for.
And she’s only going to get better.
In her final appearance last week in a Piedmont Athletic Conference battle with Randleman, Crutchfield threw five shutout innings, allowing just one walk and one hit. She fanned eight to bring her career strikeout total to 300 with still plenty of action to see in her sophomore campaign.
By comparison, Providence Gove’s Emma Mazzarone recorded 177 strikeouts in her first two years, according to Max Preps. Today, the PG senior is now just a few strikeouts away from cracking the top 20 for career strikeouts in the NCHSAA record book. It’s a record book that very well could see Crutchfield’s name before all is said and done.
“I am so excited,” she said minutes after the Cougars posted a 10-0, five-inning win over the Tigers last Thursday. “It makes me so happy. It helps my confidence a lot that I can do that.”
Entering this week, she was 9-0 this season and had given up just 25 hits in 61 innings pitched. She had given up just six earned runs, posting a miniscule 0.688 ERA, while walking just 13 and striking out 105.
“To have a freshman season like she did and be as dominant as she was, yes, it’s absolutely hard to come back and do it again,” SWR coach Chad Whitson said. “She is very determined and a hard worker. What she has got and where she is at has come from sheer hard work.
“This is a child who is dedicated to the game, dedicated to pitching, and if we're practicing or not, she is doing her drills every day. I don’t think I have ever been around a pitcher who is as driven as she is.”
After putting up very impressive numbers as a freshman, Crutchfield said she was anxious to improve on those numbers.
“I felt great and really motivated,” she said. “I’m trying to improve every game. Improve my strikeouts. I worked very hard over the (summer) break. I think I have gotten a lot better and my strikeouts have been up.”
With an offense that has generated 130 runs in their first 14 games —— an average of 9.2 runs — the Cougars have allowed a total of 11 runs entering this week’s action. That is less than one run a game.
“I throw a rise, a curve, a two seam and a changeup,” Crutchfield said. “I don’t want to add pitches. I want to improve them. I don’t think I have thrown a fastball since the seventh or eighth grade.”
A huge part of her high school success has to do with the work she puts in during the off-season. She has traveled the country playing travel ball and pitches against players older than she is. Getting them out means a lot of confidence when she’s asked to dominate high school competition.
“I am going all across the country with older girls and it really is a different level,” Crutchfield said. “Pitching there really helps me pitch against these girls. I go into a game knowing I can get them out and get strikeouts. Confidence is key.”
The Cougars certainly have had a few close contests as they opened the season with a thrilling 2-1 9-inning win over West Stanly, the defending state champion. A 1-0 win over Oak Grove, which took 10 innings, and a narrow 4-3 win over Uwharrie Charter Academy the first time those two teams met in league play this year were thrillers. Those two teams play again at the end of April.
SWR also has a non-league game against 4-A powerhouse Hickory Ridge on the horizon.
“These close games are really going to help us in the playoffs,” Crutchfield said. “You see a certain type of situation in the playoffs and you are used to it.”
And you can bet, Crutchfied will be ready. As she always is against upper-echelon competition.
“She’s a competitor,” Whitson said. “When people get hits on her, she doesn’t like it. Her demeanor doesn't change, but her competitive spirit does.The grit turns up even more when we face someone like that.”
Overall, SWR was 14-0 and 9-0 in PAC play entering this week, earning the 20th ranking in the nation, according to a Max Preps poll.
The Cougars have five regular-season games remaining as this week began. The PAC Tournament and then the state tournament are future events the Cougars should shine in.
“I just know we have to keep working,” Crutchfield said. “We can’t look at the numbers and say we’re the best. You have to keep working.”
That isn’t going to be a problem, according to Whitson.
“She spins the ball like no pitcher I have ever been around,” Whitson said. “When you get behind and catch her ball, the spin rate is unreal.
“She’s not the pitcher who is going to go out there and blow it by you, but she’s going to craft you up there, go in and out and up and down. The spin rate is so high, it's hard to barrel the ball up.
“I was told before she ever made it to high school that you got something special coming and I never took that to heart like it really is,” Whitson added. “It’s really special. To be able to night in and night out give her a sign and 99 percent of the time she is going to hit her spots, that's unheard of in pitching. She is a great kid who is really easy to like and she’s a joy to coach.”
Crutchfield said she hopes to one day play for UCLA.
“I have been to California twice to play and I love it,” she said. “I was supposed to go to camp there, but it was canceled. I have emailed the coach and she’s emailed me back. That’s where I want to play.”
But she still has plenty of time on the high school diamond and at least one coach says it could be very, very special.
“We talk as coaches in the dugout and I say, ‘Guys, Macie is just a sophomore,’ ” Whitson said. ‘Where is she going to be in two more years?’ The sky's the limit. If she stays on track, she will go down as being one of the best, if not the best.”
No one can argue that.