PALM HARBOR — Finding a replacement for an all-everything third baseman is becoming something of a chore Palm Harbor University coach Kerry Katchuk is getting good at.
Two years ago it was the state's Class 8A Offensive Player of the Year Samantha McCloskey leaving for the University of Central Florida.
Katchuk responded by plugging in Moriah Connolley, who answered with a first-team All-State performance before moving on to Boston University.
“It seems like Palm Harbor's pumping out third basemen all of a sudden,” Katchuk said before a practice last Thursday. “And after you have Moriah Connolly [at third] nobody wants to be the next person that steps in there.”
Coming into the 2014 season, Katchuk felt like he had the right girl for the job standing across the infield. With district tournaments starting this week, it's clear that he hit once again.
Junior Logyn Lilley seamlessly transitioned across the diamond from second base to third to deftly handle an integral cog in the PHU defense.
“It's an important position for us because we try and get a lot of balls going that way,” Katchuk said.
For Lilley, the process primarily entailed her taking each challenge in stride and letting her abilities handle the rest. She entered the season as a two-time All-State selected infielder after all.
“It was an adjustment but it's just like anything else,” she said. “I didn't try to think about the other two that were really good before me. I just tried to go out there and do my own thing, work hard, take a lot of ground balls.”
This year's adjustments didn't stop at getting comfy playing a new position, though. Considering the Hurricanes' youthful roster (underclassmen outnumber their elders 15-7) Katchuk found himself needing an infusion of consistent power in his lineup.
Lilley, who excels as a left-handed slap hitter, was the answer for that problem too.
“Being that she's our third hitter now I needed her to drive the ball a little bit,” Katchuk said. “She can really slap and place the ball wherever she wants to, but she's bought into what we're doing.”
That buy-in has produced a .620 batting average, five home runs, 15 doubles and a Pinellas County-leading 37 RBIs.
“It's still kind of weird to me when teams move the outfield back when I come up because I wasn't really ever a power hitter,” Lilley said of her new slugging role. “I think it's worked out for me so far. It's all about getting comfortable and getting relaxed.”
One thing helping to relieve some of the pressure that comes with leading PHU's push into the postseason was Lilley's early commitment to Long Island University this fall.
“I went to New York City in December of my sophomore year for a weekend as a birthday present and I absolutely fell in love with the city,” Lilley said of her desire to relocate to the Big Apple, where she'll also pursue her academic ambitions of becoming a nurse.
While Lilley will eventually continue PHU's enviable trend of pumping out Division I third basemen when she leaves for LIU, Katchuk said it's comforting to know he's got another season with her in Hurricanes navy and maroon.
“We've got her for one more year after this, so that's always nice to know,” he said. “She works hard, she's a great kid and she does everything we ask her to do. From a softball standpoint she's just obviously a very special person.”