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Catcher hits top of learning curve

Published May 20, 2004

PALM HARBOR - Not that long ago, Kristina Hilberth didn't consider herself a catcher.

Hilberth always was drawn to the position but never thought she'd be good at it. But her freshman year, Palm Harbor U. coach Chuck Poetter told her to get familiar with it.

After nearly three years, the junior has become one of the best catchers Poetter has had. She has played a key role for the Hurricanes (26-3), who play Niceville (28-2) in today's Class 5A state semifinal.

It might not show, but Hilberth says she's still not entirely comfortable.

"I don't have that much confidence," Hilberth said. "I'm not all that experienced."

Although Hilberth may question herself, teammates do not.

"She's pretty much the boss out there," sophomore shortstop Tara Toscano said.

Poetter agreed.

"Kristina runs the team," he said. "She knows it. She doesn't take anything from anybody."

Hilberth's first priority is to catch Dani Hofer, who has developed a reputation for moving her pitches all over the plate.

"It was a shock the first time I caught Dani," Hilberth said. "I was completely dumbfounded. I'd heard she had a wicked curveball, but you can't understand it until you try to catch it."

But Hilberth handles Hofer well, instilling confidence in her pitcher. "She's very supportive, very into the game," Hofer said. "You feed off her energy."

Hilberth had to sit out her freshman year after getting whiplash in a head-on collision in a car crash. Instead of practice she went to therapy three times a week and took off a year to recover.

Hilberth got back into shape playing little league in Dunedin and came back her sophomore year as the Hurricanes' starting catcher. She's been in two more accidents since December. With trauma in her neck and back, she was cleared to play and goes to the chiropractor twice a week.

"It hurts. If I wake up with the pain, I'll have it all day," Hilberth said. "If I don't wake up with it, I hope it doesn't come."

The pain never shows on the field. Poetter is confident in Hilberth taking charge on the field.

"You can never have somebody just like Coach," Toscano said, "but she comes pretty close to it."

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