Carolina Crush co-general managers Vicki Corn, left, and Tammy Pace.
The Carolina Crush lived up to its nickname in the opening round of the ASA 10-under fast-pitch national championship Monday at Winged Deer Park.
Catcher Abby Fagan celebrated her 11th birthday by going 4-for-5 with two doubles and Sam Carver went 3-for-5 while pitching a three-hitter in the Crush’s 13-3 win against DSA2K3 (Crystal Lake, Illinois).
Olivia Hall’s triple was among the highlights for the Crush, which will play today at 9 a.m. against the Sarasota Heat (Florida)-Team Worth winner.
The Crush is a Greenville, South Carolina-based organization with teams in five age divisions. It’s run by former college players Vicki Corn (Winthrop) and Tammy Pace (Erskine), who have coached J.L. Mann High School to three straight state championships.
Pace’s daughter Hannah and Olivia Zielinski coach the 10-U Crush. Hannah just concluded her college career as a catcher at Furman. Zielinski played at Francis Marion.
Corn and Tammy Pace, the Crush’s co-general managers if you will, coached the 16-U this year year. They said every Crush player they’ve coached for two decades that wanted to play in college went on to do so.
“I’d say 90 to 95 percent of them have played in college,” Corn said.
Among the alumni are Alabama pitcher Leslie Jury and South Carolina pitcher Julie Sarratt.
Softball has been a gratifying labor of love for Corn and Tammy Pace.
“They didn’t even have fastpitch when I was in high school,” Corn said. “The first time I saw it was when I went to college. When we first started coaching we were like one of the only organizations around, and now there’s a team on every corner in South Carolina.”
Former Auburn Tiger and NFL defensive lineman Gary Walker’s daughter Samara plays for the Crush. She delivered a gametying RBI double in the second inning and scored the go-ahead run shortly thereafter on Monday, much to the delight of her father.
But Walker is hardly the overbearing sports dad. He was perfectly relaxed moments before the Crush’s opener while recalling beating Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators in the Swamp after helped knock quarterback Terry Dean out of the game.
“I don’t (get butterflies); I just want mine not to be nervous and just play and enjoy it,” said Walker, who played with the Tennessee Titans for part of an NFL career that included 46.5 sacks. “It’s fun being able to relive some of it (the competitive environment) and just watching them grow up and go through it. We just got started in the travel, and she’s gettng caught up to the speed now. Every week she’s getting better and taking strides. She’s working hard at it and she’s enjoying it.”
The Crush, especially in the 10-under division, stress fun instruction with coaches Hannah Pace and Zielinski and manager Dow Hunter.
“This is my first year with the 10s,” Hannah Pace said. “I really like it. It’s a lot of fun.”
Hannah said her Furman Paladins played three times at East Tennessee State, where the Bucs included former Crush teammate Kendra Roberts. Another Crush player, catcher Destiny Miller, has committed to ETSU.
Miller plays at J.L. Mann for Pace’s mother, Tammy. Mother and daughter will coach against one another next season, as Hannah has been named head coach at Berea High School.
While Tammy and Corn’s Mann will be looking for yet another state title, Tammy says Berea has the pitching to present quite a challenge in her daughter’s debut season.
Numerous former Crush players have returned in a coaching role, including Corn’s daughter McKenzi, who also played at Winthrop.
“We’ve been coaching our girls since they were 12 and they just graduated college,” Tammy Pace said. “When our daughters were 12 we won the ISA World Series, which was pretty cool. And then at 14 we placed 17th at ASA Nationals in Illinois ... and in the 16-under nationals we were 13th in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. ...
“We try to bring players back in, because they know how to run the program like it needs to be run inputting character and integrity and those kind of things into the program — not just developing softball players, but developing good individuals.”
The Crush doesn’t know what to expect in a tournament that includes teams from Florida, Texas and California.
“We’re just excited to see how we stack up with the talent level of other teams around the country,” Tammy Pace said.
If Monday’s any indication, the Crush looks like a contender.