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Services pending for 'Bad News Bears' actress Sammi Kane Kraft

Sammi Kane Kraft, left, with Billy Bob Thornton and Tanner Boyle.

Services were pending Thursday for Sammi Kane Kraft, whose real-life baseball skills landed her the role of the pitching ace in the only film she ever made, 2005's "Bad News Bears."

Kraft, 20, died early Tuesday in a car accident on the 10 Freeway near Crenshaw Boulevard.

She was a passenger in an Audi that was speeding on the westbound freeway about 1:30 a.m. when it rear-ended a big rig and was then struck by another car, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Kraft was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said her brother Frankie Kraft.

Molly Kate Adams, the 21-year-old driver of the Audi, was treated for moderate injuries and arrested on suspicion of felony drunk driving, the CHP said. The two other drivers escaped without major injury.

As a 13-year-old, Kraft was chosen to play pitcher Amanda Whurlitzer in "Bad News Bears," the remake of the 1976 hit comedy about a coach of a hapless Little League baseball team. The role had been made famous by Academy Award-winning actress Tatum O'Neal. O'Neal played opposite Walter Matthau in the original while Billy Bob Thornton starred in the role of the gruff, hard-living coach Morris Buttermaker in the remake.

Kraft, who heard about the role from a friend, had never acted professionally before "Bad News Bears” but knew a lot about sports, having played baseball and basketball where she was often the only girl on the team.

"I throw a knuckleball, a knuckleball curve, a curveball, a changeup, a 70-mph fastball, a two-seam fastball and a four-seam fastball -- the whole thing," Kraft told Times staff writer Susan King in a 2005 interview.

Kraft was discovered on a baseball diamond in Los Angeles, where her family had moved from New York so she and another brother could play ball year-round.

She secured the part of Whurlitzer after throwing a 75-mph fastball during a casting call in Encino, the Daily News of Los Angeles reported in 2005.

"Amanda is such a character that you can't 'out-Tatum' Tatum O'Neal, so we wanted to get a real girl who could do it," "Bad News Bears" director Richard Linklater said in the 2005 interview. "I didn't want to keep cutting to some boy with a wig on who could throw."

Only 13 years old when the film was released, Kraft portrayed the sole girl on a misfit baseball team coached by Thornton's character.

After graduating high school in 2010, she studied at San Francisco State and started a folk-country-rock band called Scary Girls. After returning to Los Angeles this year, Kraft enrolled at Santa Monica College and often performed as a solo singer-guitarist at small venues.

On the last night of her life, she attended a show and was trying to network with bands, her brother said. For the last year, Kraft had collaborated with her brother on a musical called "Funerals" that was inspired by their grandmother's death. She had spent a week in January in New York work-shopping the production with actors.

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-- Andrew Blankstein and Valerie J. Nelson

Photo: Sammi Kane Kraft, left, with Billy Bob Thornton and Tanner Boyle. Credit: Deanna Newcomb / Paramount Pictures

 
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