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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.
Power hitter GiOnna DiSalvatore has been a Countryside asset for years.
By JOE SMITH
Published May 11, 2007
CLEARWATER - Sue Enquist will always remember "the call."
Those standing around her in the parking lot that day will never forget the joyful screams that followed.
Enquist, the legendary UCLA softball coach, experienced plenty of emotional peaks in her career that includes 11 national titles and 887 wins.
But when Countryside star shortstop GiOnna DiSalvatore gave Enquist her oral commitment one summer afternoon in 2005, Enquist said she yelled so loudly observers gave double takes.
"I'll never forget it, " said Enquist, who retired in January. "I knew right then we had signed one of the best players in the country."
Before DiSalvatore fulfills a childhood dream of donning the Bruin blue and gold, the senior has one more goal to reach: a state softball title.
That quest continues today at 2 when DiSalvatore leads the Cougars 24-5 into a Class 6A state semifinal against Miami Palmetto at Plant City Stadium.
In the coming days - or weeks - the admitted shopaholic will wrap up a stellar softball career in which she transformed from a speedy slap-hitter to a smooth-swinging, southpaw slugger considered one of the most feared in the state.
"She has one of those Lou Gehrig swings - with no flaws, " Northeast coach Holli Yates said. "Unless you throw 2 feet outside or 2 feet inside, she can hit any pitch."
DiSalvatore realized early on dancing would not be her forte.
In her elementary school years, she took jazz and tap classes, as well as gymnastic lessons.
"We never made the recitals, " her mother, Hanna said, laughing. "She was too bored - she never wanted to go."
By age 8, DiSalvatore had a tunnel vision-type focus on her first love - softball - and showed she wasn't afraid to do flips to finish first.
Case in point: a game last season when DiSalvatore somersaulted over second base to snag a line drive before simultaneously spinning in mid-air to begin a double play.
That kind of athleticism sparked former coach Ed Hofer to switch DiSalvatore from a right-handed hitter to a southpaw slapper. But as DiSalvatore grew - now at a sturdy, 5-foot-9 - her power took over.
DiSalvatore has batted over .500 the past two seasons, while belting an average of 30-plus RBIs. Countryside coach Kaylyn Bayly remembers a playoff game last year in Tampa when hordes of Major League Baseball scouts, watching the adjoining high school baseball tournament, soon swooned over DiSalvatore's swing.
"There have been some great ones to come through, " Enquist said. "(GiOnna) has the tools to become another one."