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On the road to recovery

Hillsborough High Terriers' most improved player forfeits a summer of team travel in favor of fixing her knee in time for her senior year.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2000

CARROLLWOOD -- When the high school softball season started last February, Patti Ward was hoping for a decent year with better-than-average statistics.

After that she planned to play a summer of travel ball to hone her skills and prepare for her senior season with the Hillsborough High Terriers.

Then came the knee injury. Late in March, as the Terriers were having a good season with Ward one of the leading hitters in Hillsborough County, it happened during practice.

"I was helping with a run-down when I collided with a teammate and fell sharp on my right knee," Ward said. " At first it seemed all right, but within 10 minutes I could not bend my right leg much. The doctor said it wasn't a tear, but a bad bruise beneath and on the knee cap."

For Ward to salvage a senior season, she must now spend the summer rehabilitating. Her hopes of improving her skills on The Storm, a North Tampa travel softball team, are gone.

"I just can't take a chance by playing, even though I would like to," she said.

Softball is a relatively new sport for Ward. She didn't start playing until her freshman year at Hillsborough.

"Patti was kinda gawky when she first started playing for us," Hillsborough head coach Kelly McArdle said. "But she is smart, works hard and always gives her all. She improved tremendously after that first year and became one of the better players on the team. She is the kind of player I love to coach."

Before the injury, Ward was hitting .378. Then she missed six weeks and came back as the designated hitter.

Even then she finished the season with five triples, five doubles, 15 RBIs and a .320 batting average.

Because she excelled in academics, she chose to attend the International Baccalaureate program at Hillsborough, instead of a high school closer to her home in northern Carrollwood. Last year as a junior she had a GPA of 5.1, with weighted courses.

"To do well with the very hard courses in the IB program requires at least three hours of study a night for me," Ward said. "That creates a lot of stress. Playing softball was the best stress reliever I have found. I really got stressed during the six weeks I was unable to play in the spring."

Before going out for the Terriers team in her freshman year, she had a talk with McArdle to determine whether it was possible for a newcomer to play softball at the high school level.

"Coach McArdle said she would work with me to help me learn the basics of the game and she did," Ward said. "I was really awkward that first year. Then I played some travel ball to help fill in the gaps."

She worked hard at learning the skills of the game, at the plate and on defense. She says she always feels more comfortable playing defense positions than hitting.

Her fielding percentage of .853 indicates her ability to make a defensive play without making a mistake. So 85 percent of the time she touches the ball, she does so without an error.

"She is very coachable," McArdle said. "Plus she is always upbeat, trying to help her teammates make the game fun. They voted her the most improved player on the team this season. I am looking forward to having her another season."

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