After Palm Harbor University fell in the first round of last season’s Class 8A playoffs, a rebuilding year appeared to be on the horizon for one of Pinellas County softball’s power programs.
Four college-bound seniors buttoned up their Hurricanes jerseys for the last time that day, including four-year starting pitcher Taylor Sabol and power hitter Samantha McCloskey. On top of that, PHU lost the only coach the program had ever known when Chuck Poetter and his three state championships stepped down.
The ’Canes still had plenty of talent returning for 2013, but the lack of those linchpin pieces left questions about exactly how much success could be realized.
As it turns out, the concerns were misplaced; the rebuild was more like a reload, and PHU was once again a state contender.
The Hurricanes and first-year coach Kerry Katchuk finished the season with a 25-5 overall record and one win away from advancing into the school’s fifth state final four.
After last week’s season-ending setback in the Class 8A region finals against Orlando Timber Creek, senior shortstop Jess Adams mentioned the exploits of the Class of 2013.
“Eight years ago this team wasn’t expected to get here and do this, let alone get out of districts,” Adams said. “But we made it this and we proved a lot of people wrong. I think we left our mark this year.”
Fueling much of Palm Harbor’s run this season was an offense that averaged nearly nine runs per game. The ’Canes batted a combined .409, led by Logan Lilly (.536), Moriah Connolly (.532) and Adams (.500), and more than 20 percent of the team’s 345 hits went for extra bases.
Stepping up as the season’s most pleasant surprise, though, was the combined pitching effort of starter Rachel Taylor and reliever Logyn Lilley.
The junior duo practically split the season’s total amount of innings worked and consistently put the ’Canes in position to win while not possessing dominant fastballs that are so coveted throughout the game.
Katchuk, who was certainly no stranger to PHU softball prior to filling Poetter’s role, said the real reason for the team’s won-loss record and playoff run truly begins with the work ethic and character of his players.
“You have to respect how hard they all work,” the former assistant coach said after Friday’s loss. “I’m not trying to belittle them, but talent-wise I wasn’t sure if this year’s team was as talented as last year’s team. That tells you a lot about their heart, and they do all have big hearts.”