Kelsey Crowe still pitches like someone who struck out 94 batters in 95 innings as a junior. She still hits like someone who, that same year, led all Thomas College batters in doubles, walks and runs batted in.

For Crowe, that junior season was two years ago. An injury cost her all of the 2013 softball season, but she’s returned for a fifth season — one that begins in Florida in less than two weeks.

After finishing 7-9 in the North Atlantic Conference and 10-24 overall last spring, Crowe’s return is one of the reasons the Terriers are talking about contending for one of the top spots in the conference this year.

“Kelsey is absolutely one of our better hitters on the team,” Thomas coach Terry Parlin said. “So when we lost her last year, not only did we lose our starting pitcher and one we counted on to give us a chance of winning the conference, we lost one of the top hitters on the team. To take both of them out of the lineup really hurt.”

Crowe, a Gorham High School graduate, hit .411 as a sophomore and .298 as a junior at Thomas, and was slated to start in the circle nearly every game last season. Instead, she broke her foot on the last play of a preseason practice.

“My feet are weird, let’s just put it that way,” Crowe said. “I walk like on the outside of my feet, so when I ran, I stopped real quick, and I kind of went over the outside of my foot. My fifth metatarsal just snapped.”

After the injury, Crowe was hoping to avoid surgery. She then broke the same bone in September, and finally succumbed to surgery. Meanwhile, Thomas freshman Faith Robinson did a creditable job in the circle, posting a 3.88 ERA in 27 games. All told, Thomas pitchers threw 203 innings last spring. In their college careers before last season, they had thrown a total of 2 1/3 innings.

“The younger pitchers were going to come along slowly and she was going to be able to lead the team,” Parlin said. “And then all of a sudden, the younger pitchers were thrown right into the mix.”

“I don’t like sitting anyway and I had to do it a lot,” Crowe said. “It was awful, watching everyone play and just sitting on the sideline.”

Crowe decided to get her Master’s degree at Thomas and come back for her senior season. She said until the injury, she hadn’t thought about obtaining her Master’s.

“They put a screw in my fifth metatarsal, so it wouldn’t break again,” Crowe said, “and they cut my heel off, the bone off, and they moved it over, so I have two more screws in there. So now I walk on the outside of my foot (on) my left foot, but I walk normally on my right foot. So now I have an orthotic on my left foot, so I’ll hopefully start walking normal.”

When an athlete is talking in terms of hopefully walking normally in the future, that naturally poses some questions about the athlete’s health. Crowe has been playing since January, but Parlin said the Terriers are bringing her along slowly. She’s been cleared to play by the doctors and has talked about hitting home runs this season. Parlin plans for Crowe to be his starting pitcher when Thomas opens its Florida trip on March 25.

“I’m getting my pitching up,” she said. “That should hopefully come before I head to Florida. But I’m almost there.”

Crowe walked only 14 batters in 95 innings two seasons ago and she’s a first-class fielder. Her experience and savvy will be enormously valuable for the Terriers this season. She’s never beaten Husson as a pitcher and she’s never won a NAC tournament. She’d like to cross both items off her bucket list this spring.

“Her desire to play was such that she was willing to come back that extra year,” Parlin said. “That just tells a lot about her character and her desire to play softball, as long as she possibly could. We’re happy to have players like that on our roster.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243 mdifilippo@centralmaine.com Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo