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Pirates pack all-around punch

Newfound power at the plate, improved defense propel Pasco.

Published April 7, 2006

DADE CITY - Pasco's pitching and defense have improved from last season, when the team came within one win of a state appearance.

With freshmen Colena Lazar and Alex Hartshorn joining returning ace Liz Garcia, coach Shamalene Broner counted on better pitching. Each has five wins in the Pirates' 15-3 start heading into today's 1 p.m. game at Zephyrhills.

And with another year of experience, returners Abbie Boyd, a junior who moved from third base to second, and sophomore shortstop Brianne Farmer anchor a solid infield.

Those two areas, in part, are why the Pirates have avoided the ups and downs of last season, which included an eight-game win streak that followed an error-prone 1-7 stretch.

"We have a solid defense," Broner said. "There's really no weak line out there. If they make a mistake it's mental, not physical."

One thing Broner could not foresee, however, is her team's power surge. Pasco leads the county with 11 home runs.

Until last week, Farmer was atop that list with five. Now she is two behind Mitchell's Olivia Kline, who has seven after slugging four last week (two in a 16-1 win over Wesley Chapel and two in a 10-4 defeat of Gulf).

Pasco's home run total is 10 more than last season, when Farmer had the lone round-tripper. The Pirates had zero in 2004.

"I usually try not to hit it over the fence," Farmer said. "The first pitch, I look for it to be perfect and I just drive it."

Another returner, junior catcher Kalee Burchfield, also is hitting the ball deeper. She has three homers.

"I'm just concentrating more on the ball, not letting anything bother me (at the plate) and getting on top of it," Burchfield said.

Broner is not complaining about her team's newfound power, but she is not overly thrilled about publicizing that fact.

Broner fears some of her players might see their numbers in the newspaper and purposely try to hit balls over the fence.

"I don't want them to get the big head," said Broner, who had eight home runs as a Pasco player, including seven on the 1994 team that made state.

The Pirates are not just hitting for power, evident by the team's .356 batting average and six players hitting .400 or better.

"If you're just doing what you're supposed to do, make a compact swing, you're going to get a hit," Broner said, noting the home runs open up more areas in the field for base hits.

"Quite a bit of (opposing outfielders) play us deep," Broner continued. "They're pretty deep for (Farmer and Burchfield). They know about them."

Farmer credited an offseason weight-training regimen to add strength, but a move in the field also helped.

Farmer and Garcia shared time on the mound last season. Garcia still splits time on the mound, but not with Farmer, who now is a fixture at short.

"I just wasn't really into pitching," Farmer said. "I wanted to focus more on hitting. I decided hitting and playing shortstop were more important to me."

With the arrival of travel ball pitchers Hartshorn and Lazar, leaving Farmer out of the rotation was fine with Broner, and the results have been impressive.

Garcia, who last season went 10-8 and pitched in a region final, is 5-0 with a 1.05 ERA. Hartshorn is 5-1 with a 1.27 ERA and team-high 54 strikeouts. Lazar is 5-2 with a 1.62 ERA and 39 strikeouts.

"They're straight in the rotation," Pasco assistant Lisa Herndon said. "We have three games a week and they all pitch."

Another freshmen helping out offensively as well as defensively is Lucy Schneider, solid at third base and a leadoff hitter with a team-leading .500 average. And she has a home run.

"She's only got one, but she's capable of so much more," Broner said.

[Last modified April 7, 2006, 01:32:03]

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