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Stirring up trouble for foes

Palm Harbor U.'s straw, Tara Toscano, leads the way in a speedy lineup.

By LAURA LEE, Times Staff Writer
Published May 9, 2004

PALM HARBOR - It's not easy keeping Tara Toscano from getting what she wants.

As Palm Harbor U.'s leadoff hitter, Toscano wants to get on base by any means necessary. Get a hit, get hit, walk, force an error, whatever, just as long as she's on.

But her favorite way is to put the ball on the ground and race the throw to first.

Coach Chuck Poetter calls Toscano "the straw that stirs the drink." She leads the team in on-base percentage (.500), stolen bases (29) and runs scored (24). Much of the credit goes to her speed, naturally. But in ranking the fastest girls on the team, Poetter would put Toscano third, just after catcher and No. 2 batter Kristina Hilberth and sophomore Amanda Roeding, who often comes in as a pinch runner for pitcher and slugger Dani Hofer.

Come to think of it, they're all pretty fast.

Speed is a weapon the Hurricanes (24-3) love to exploit, and it's likely to come out this week as they venture deeper into the state playoffs. With Hofer frustrating batters from the mound, PHU can be just as disturbing on offense with runners on base.

"We want to send a message that we're trying to score one run because you're not going to," Poetter said. "Our goal against them is to put pressure on them. We want them to feel tight enough that they feel "we can't give a run up.' We want to score first."

The Hurricanes breed speed in the preseason on a section of the Pinellas Trail. A few miles south of the school, off Alt. U.S. 19, there's a ramp leading to an overpass, carrying the Pinellas Trail from one side of the street to the other. Twice a week, the Hurricanes do sprints up the ramp - a 300-yard steady incline.

"You're just so tired," Toscano said, adding that sometimes her teammates are breathing heavy and the jog back down is more of an exercise in gravity.

The training gets the team in shape to "create chaos" Toscano said. Just the sight of Toscano nearing first base can rush an opposing fielder into making an error. Then Hilberth takes the plate with the task of moving her along.

"I expect her to be on second no matter where I hit it," Hilberth said. "I would never think that we'd be put in a double play or as a lead runner, she'd get thrown out."

Hilberth, a left-handed batter, often can beat out a slow roller with her own speed. With Toscano on second and perhaps Hilberth on first, Hofer and Elysha Agen, the next batters in order, who lead the Hurricanes in hitting, take their shots at driving them in. The Hurricanes like to push an opposing defense as hard as they can with aggressive base running. They're not afraid to be thrown out testing a fielder's arm.

"If you don't put pressure on them and you don't take a chance," Toscano said, "that's what can stop you."

[Last modified May 9, 2004, 01:40:27]


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