State Colleges

Center fielder keys FIU’s 13-game winning streak in softball

The leading hitter on FIU’s red-hot softball team is a natural right-hander who became a lefty batter just last season.

So far, the results have been sensational as sophomore center fielder Jackie Schoff leads FIU in batting average (.455), steals (18 of 20) and runs (36). She leads Conference USA in runs, ranks second in batting average and fifth in steals.

It was Schoff’s triple over the left fielder’s head Thursday that started a three-run rally in the Panthers’ 3-1 win over visiting Jacksonville.

That victory for FIU (27-6, 3-0 Conference USA) extended its school-record winning streak to 13 games, a run that has put the Panthers on the verge of being nationally ranked.

As for Schoff, the Bradenton native started all but one game as a freshman, ranking fifth on the team in batting average (.358). She also hit .398 in C-USA games, which ranked second on the team.

Not that she was satisfied.

“Last year was a little rough around the edges,” she said. “I was trying to get the mechanics down [as a lefty hitter]. I kept working on it until I got it down.”

Schoff, who had committed to Auburn before changing her mind after the Tigers changed coaches, has a family connection to Miami. Her grandfather, Jack Harper, played for the Dolphins in 1967 and 1968.

An undrafted running back out of the University of Florida, Harper scored four touchdowns in 14 games for the Dolphins.

Schoff obviously got some of Harper’s athleticism because she is the fastest player on her team, according to coach Gator Rebhan, who was the one who switched her to the left side.

“We made her a slapper, and she picked it up right away,” Rebhan said. “With her speed, she puts the ball on the ground, and it’s a tough out. She is one of the top slappers in the country. And she also has power.”

Schoff, of course, is just a part of an excellent FIU team. The Panthers lead the conference in ERA (1.72), runs scored and fewest errors.

NOVA SOUTHEASTERN

It will be interesting to see what Jim Crutchfield, announced this week as the new men’s basketball coach after 13 highly successful seasons at West Liberty, can accomplish with the Sharks.

He inherits a 6-20 team that finished 3-15 in the Sunshine State Conference. NSU also graduated its top player, second-team all-league forward Harrison Goodrick.

Crutchfield has a late start on recruiting for the 2017-2018 season. Perhaps the most optimistic turnaround time might be for his second year, especially because Crutchfield has a worthy league adversary in Butch Estes, who has built Barry into a national power since arriving in 2013.

Having said that, Crutchfield’s record is phenomenal. He took West Liberty to nine NCAA Tournaments, reaching the Sweet 16 seven times, the Elite Eight round five times and the Final Four round three times. Five of his teams won at least 30 games.

Crutchfield won at least 20 games every year at West Liberty, posting an incredible .855 winning percentage.

Looking at his 2016-2017 roster, 13 of his 14 West Liberty players were from Ohio or West Virginia. Presumably, he will have no trouble convincing future prep stars from those states to come to South Florida while also attracting players from the Sunshine State.

Crutchfield’s teams play fast — West Liberty ranked in the top four in Division II in points per game in each of his 13 seasons — which is the same style Barry employs.

It should make for a great Division II basketball rivalry.

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