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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Jessica Mouse's hard work paid off not only for her, but also for her team.
By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published June 17, 2006
TAMPA - The ball flew off Jessica Mouse's bat during her first practice at Chamberlain. In the field, she was flawless. On the basepaths, she was smooth.
But that wasn't what caught Bobby Diez's eye.
"The wow part was not how well she caught or hit or ran," the longtime Chiefs coach said. "It was just the way she worked. She didn't stop at practice. If others were in the cage hitting and there was downtime, she was in the outfield running or doing situps. All the time, she was doing something."
That work paid dividends.
Not only for Mouse, who recently committed to LSU. But for her team.
The Times' All-Suncoast Player of the Year, while splitting time at third base and catcher as a junior this spring, led the Chiefs in batting average (.470) and RBIs (26), adding five home runs. At third, she committed no errors in 66 chances.
"That's rare," Diez said. "I've had some outstanding players, but I've never had one go through the season without an error."
Behind Mouse, the Chiefs finished 28-4 and reached the Class 5A state semifinals, where they fell to West Boca Raton 2-1.
"I was disappointed that we lost," Mouse said. "But if you look at our stats, we had a heck of a year."
The 2006 season was Mouse's first at Chamberlain. She moved to Tampa last year from New Jersey after her father, who serves in the Air Force, was transferred to MacDill Air Force Base.
"When I came here, I didn't really like it," Mouse said. "But once school started to get going and I met all the softball girls, I was glad I moved here. And now, I get to play more."
Mouse's competitive spirit is family-driven. While growing up, she practiced regularly with her father, Tim, and older sister, Lyndsay, who plays for UNC-Greensboro.
"I always played up with (Lyndsay) on her teams," Mouse said. "And when me, her and my dad would be on the field, it was kind of like a competition."
Mouse's over-the-top work ethic affected her Chamberlain teammates in a good way, Diez said. Not long after Mouse impressed the coach at her initial practice in January, he noticed Mouse's teammates had followed her lead. "Before you knew it, they automatically started doing what she was doing," Diez said. "She fit right in."
For Mouse, who's also an honor roll student, the accomplishments of 2006 aren't enough. She wants to improve her fielding, would like to see the Chiefs take another step during her senior season and even hopes to do a little better at the plate.
"There's always room for improvement," Mouse said. "It's not like I batted 1.000."