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THE TIMES ORANGE COUNTY PLAYERS OF THE YEAR : Marina Has Benefited From Marcy Factor : Softball: When Crouch graduates this month, many opponents will cheer.


HUNTINGTON BEACH — There's a story Marina Athletic Director Larry Doyle likes to tell. It's about soccer, but is apropos for softball because the punch line is the same:

"It's right before the finals of the 1994 Southern Section championship game, and someone comes up to me and asks me if I'm worried. 'Worried? No, I'm not worried. Why should I be worried?' The guy says, you know, because it's going to be a tough game. I tell him that I'll never worry as long as Marina has The Marcy Factor."

The Marcy Factor.

When Marcy Crouch graduates this month, a whole lot of people from other teams are going to cheer. Marina finally will be back on a level playing field.

Marcy Crouch wins games. She wins them in soccer and softball. She pitched the Vikings to the Southern Section title last year, and did the same this year. She is not the most dominant pitcher ever to throw in Orange County, but there are few who have ever been tougher when the chips are down and snake-eyes ends your season.

Unlike so many of the other top softball players in the county, Crouch is not a specialist. She plays three sports, and her enormous success in soccer takes away from her readiness for the softball season. The Vikings have won the past three section soccer championships and the past two in softball. And she was the their best player.

This is her third year on The Times Orange County team, and though she could have been player of the year last year, she wasn't.

She is this year. But it isn't charity.

She was 17-4 with a 0.12 earned-run average, then gave up only eight hits in five playoff games. After beating Mater Dei on Saturday, 3-0, her ERA was down to 0.11, her record up to 22-4.

She walked only eight in 197 innings and struck out 181. She had 13 shutouts and five no-hitters, and batted .296 with nine RBIs from the leadoff spot.

Some have suggested that if Crouch were on 10 other teams in Orange County, each would have won a Southern Section title, and that's probably true. Her pitching gets better as the season goes on--she's not a year-round pitcher, so she has to work herself into shape--and she raises her game if needed.

In the semifinals, Westlake Village Westlake was coming off an upset of top-seeded Foothill. Riding a crest of emotion and momentum, it was an opportunity for the Warriors to say, "Hey, we did it to Foothill and we can do it to you."

They didn't.

Crouch made a statement of her own. She struck out five of the first six batters and didn't give up a hit until the seventh inning. You're playing by my rules.

Over her last 38 starts as a pitcher, only once did a team score more than two runs--Mater Dei defeated Marina, 3-1, on April 1. The Monarchs got nine hits that day and struck out only three times. In the championship game, Crouch gave up only four hits--three by the same person--and struck out seven.

That's the way it is around Crouch. There is an aura of invincibility. No, she can't do it on her own, but her presence provides teammates the confidence that they can do it with her.

"She's truly the best," said Marina's coach, Shelly Luth, whose central nervous system should get quite a shock next year when practice rolls around and it's apparent that the Marcy Crouch Era--91 Marina victories in 108 games--really is over. "Marcy truly prepares herself. I think a lot of people think they prepare."

In all, Crouch was 68-11 over four years with 526 strikeouts in 567 innings and only 32 walks. She batted .318 during that span.

There are varying opinions on what makes The Marcy Factor:

* "She knows the game, and that's why she succeeds to the degree that she does," Luth said. "She's able to be a leader because she's a pitcher, and she has no problem filling those shoes; she likes that role."

* "She's so poised, and she will make something happen," Doyle said. "She's a lot more fiery than people think."

* "She's composed and in control," Los Alamitos Coach Jami Shannon said.

* "She's so intelligent, if she does have a weakness, it's not apparent," Mater Dei Coach Doug Myers said.

Her father, Cary, is Laguna Hills' softball coach. He knows a thing or two about the sport, and he knows several things about his daughter.

"Her better days are ahead of her," he said. "As soon as she starts specializing, she should be really good."

Which makes her story that much more amazing. She is headed to Stanford next year to play softball, and might add soccer her sophomore year. Her high school soccer and softball jerseys will be retired Thursday.

But maybe the only person who can explain The Marcy Factor is Marcy.

"It's mostly mental--I take everything in stride," she said. "And I guess I know what's going to follow if we win, and no one can take that feeling from you. I want the championship--I don't want anyone to say, 'Oh, you weren't that good.'

"I could not imagine going out and losing our last game."

She didn't.

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