Three-pronged pitching attack

Published March 1, 2007

ZEPHYRHILLS - There is FCAT testing this week at school.

Then there's the Zephyrhills endurance test - four games in four days. It's a critical stretch ripe with three district games, including tonight's battle at home with rival Pasco at 7.

Bodies were aching before Wednesday's makeup game at Gulf; many eyes had grown heavy from the long hours.

This is one of those weeks Bulldogs coach Craig Milburn can look at his roster, complete with three standout pitchers, and smile.

The trio doesn't rotate one start to the next. Instead, Milburn looks at it as having an ace starter, solid middle relief and a sharp closer.

Promoting sophomores Kaitlyn Hutchison and Andrea Durrett to varsity allowed Milburn to put last year's ace, junior Jessica Davis, at shortstop to strengthen the defense.

"They've done better than I thought they would at this time," Milburn said of Hutchison and Durrett. "I'm very pleased with them. With them on the mound we're a better defensive team."

Hutchison uses power pitching and has an arsenal ranging from a knuckleball to a riser, giving Zephyrhills a solid No. 1 with a 2-1 record.

Durrett often comes on in relief with a southpaw style that gives batters a different look, and she's already 3-0 on the season.

And in the later innings - Milburn hopes with a comfortable lead - Davis does her best to stitch up the wins. She was the primary pitcher last season and is 1-1 in her new role.

"I want to play shortstop for college," Davis said. "He gives everyone else a chance to pitch. I like it better like that."

The girls seem content with their roles and often don't know how the rotation will pan out until the game starts. But they usually get a good feel during warmups.

Milburn used all three in a 5-4 loss to River Ridge last week, which Royal Knights coach Ernie Beck said kept them off balance.

"I've gained confidence in them," Milburn said. "Now they should have confidence in themselves. They've gotten better each game."

The Bulldogs hope by week's end they have a better sense of where they fit in Class 4A, District 8. Pitching should be a strong sign.

"We'll have a good picture of where we shape up," Milburn said. "It's definitely a competitive district."

Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@tampabay.com or 813 909-4619.