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High School Sports

Column: Harvard-Westlake’s Pete Crow-Armstrong has become a hitting machine

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Pete Crow-Armstrong of Harvard-Westlake is batting .411 with just six strikeouts and 46 hits this season.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

In the batter’s box, Pete Crow-Armstrong exudes an aura of self-confidence. You can see it in his body language — the movement in his hands, the firm posture in his stance, the tipping of his helmet toward the dugout to signal “I got this.”

In 112 at-bats this season, the Studio City Harvard-Westlake junior center fielder has struck out just six times. He has 46 hits as the leadoff batter, with five triples and three home runs.

Southern California has produced hitters the likes of Royce Lewis (San Juan Capistrano JSerra), Nick Pratto (Huntington Beach) and Blake Rutherford (West Hills Chaminade) in recent years. All three were first-round draft picks. Crow-Armstrong will surely join them in 2020.

“He’s a very cognizant player,” Harvard-Westlake coach Jared Halpert said. “He’s taking in things. He’s watching previous at-bats. He’s formulating ideas and plans and he’s willing to have small failures for that larger picture of success. You don’t do that as a high school player.”

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He expects to get on base every time he bats but has learned to not take it personally when he occasionally fails.

“Baseball players are humans. They struggle,” Crow-Armstrong said. “As a hitter, I struggle the most with committing to an approach. That’s where I show my immaturity. I get away from myself and try to do too much. Studying the pitchers throughout the game is hugely important.”

An example of Crow-Armstrong’s growth could be seen on Friday in a Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal playoff game against No. 1-seeded Orange Lutheran. He opened the game against his former USA 18U national teammate, Max Rajcic, by striking out. Some in the crowd had come to see this matchup of potential future stars.

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“Max has a great arm and is a talented pitcher,” Crow-Armstrong said. “I wasn’t planning to go four for four with four home runs. I went in with the mind set we had to work him and attack him.”

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By the bottom of the seventh inning, Harvard-Westlake trailed 3-1 and Rajcic was no longer pitching. Crow-Armstong stood in the batter’s box with the bases loaded against closer Evan Adolphus. He was the same pitcher who beat the Wolverines in the championship game of the National High School Invitational in April in Cary, N.C.

“As much as we had a chip on our shoulder from last time, we had a chip on our shoulder seeing him warming up,” he said. “We didn’t want him to beat us again. I went up there with a plan.”

He hit an RBI single to right field with two strikes. That helped the Wolverines rally for a 4-3 victory and send them into a semifinal game on Tuesday against Huntington Beach.

Crow-Armstrong, 6 feet 1 and 175 pounds, credits lots of his success to his coaches as well as former Harvard-Westlake outfielder RJ Schreck, who is now at Duke. The two met at Sherman Oaks Little League. Schreck challenged Crow-Armstrong every practice at Harvard-Westlake. Schreck hit .480 in his junior season. Crow-Armstrong, then a freshman, paid attention.

“He was simply better than me,” he said. “He took me under his wings. It’s nice to have a player who can push and challenge you.”

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Crow-Armstrong’s competitiveness, strong work ethic and natural talent have put him in position to be recognized as one of the best teenage players in America. But he’s in no hurry to leave high school. He’s 17 and taking in every day as a learning experience to prepare for the future.

“The rankings are a great honor and gesture, but I don’t try to think about it too much,” he said. “I’m trying to milk the time with my friends on the baseball team. These could be the last time I step on the field with some of my best friends. I want to play for the seniors.”

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @latsondheimer


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