In practice, no one hits home runs that are more majestic than the balls Samantha McCloskey sends soaring into the sky, most headed for beyond the outfield fence.
Palm Harbor University coach Chuck Poetter knows. He used to have his players retrieve the balls McCloskey smacked. Until some landed in territory occupied by a rattlesnake.
“I don’t want the girls going back there anymore,” Poetter said. “I just get a rake, scrape through the weeds and get the balls myself.”
McCloskey’s blasts do not end there. In games, she hits long homers, prodigious homers, a lot of homers. A patient and powerful slugger, the senior has 11 home runs this season, four more than anyone else in the county.
And because the Hurricanes have other efficient hitters who can get on base, McCloskey’s homers usually bring in a lot of runs. Through 24 games, she has a whopping 60 RBIs, a category she leads the county in by more than 20.
“At first my goal this season was to hit five home runs,” McCloskey said. “I hit three homers in each of my first three seasons. Then I got to five, and I changed the goal to 10. Then it was 11. Now I don’t know if there’s really a number to hit.”
The Hurricanes have had girls hit double-digit homers in a season before, such as Maddie O’Brien, now the starting shortstop at FSU.
But for years, PHU has mostly played small-ball with hit-and-runs, steals, bunts, sacrifices and squeezes. The Hurricanes still incorporate many of those aspects in their offense with nearly every batter serving as a table setter.
The exception, of course, is McCloskey, a table cleaner who can produce instant offense with one mighty swing.
McCloskey, though, had to develop that power. Last year, she transferred from Clearwater Central Catholic and had to adjust to a new way of doing things, including a more enhanced training program.
“This was something different for Sam,” Poetter said. “We work a lot in the weight room and do a lot with hitting. Before, she was a good contact hitter. Now, she’s making contact with some power behind it.”
McCloskey realized just how much power she had with her first home run this season.
“We were playing Clearwater and I hit a ball that went over the fence and sailed past the trees, which are pretty tall,” McCloskey said. “I think it might have cleared some houses. Our athletic director said it went so far, it should have had a flight director with it.”
McCloskey will continue to take her cuts in the Class 8A, District 8 tournament. PHU (23-2) has the best record in the county and the No. 1 seed in its district.
But she insists she is not just swinging for the fences.
“I’m looking to make contact,” McCloskey said. “The home runs are just a matter of where I’m able to get a hold of the ball. It’s all a matter of timing.”
8A-8 at various sites
Tuesday: No. 4 North Port at No. 1 Palm Harbor U., 4; No. 3 East Lake at No. 2 Sarasota Riverview, 7; Thursday: final, 7 (site TBD)
7A-10 at Pinellas Park
Monday: No. 4 Countryside vs. No. 5 Clearwater, 4; No. 3 Seminole vs. No. 6 Pinellas Park, 7; Wednesday: No. 1 Countryside vs. Northeast/Clearwater winner, 4; No. 2 St. Petersburg vs. Seminole/Pinellas Park winner, 7; Thursday: final, 7
6A-12 various sites
Tuesday: No. 5 Largo at No. 4 Dixie Hollins, 7; Wednesday: Dixie/Largo winner at No. 1 Lakewood Ranch, 7; No. 3 Palmetto at No. 2 Osceola, 7; Friday: final at TBD, 7
6A-10 at River Ridge
Monday: No. 5 Land O’Lakes vs. No. 4 River Ridge, 7; Tuesday: No. 3 Mitchell vs. No. 2 Tarpon Springs, 5; No. 1 Sunlake vs. Land O’Lakes/River Ridge, 7; Thursday: final, 7
5A-12 at various sites
Tuesday: No. 5 Bradenton Bayshore at No. 4 Bradenton Southeast, 7; No. 6 Gibbs at No. 3 Lakewood, 7; Wednesday: Bayshore/Southeast winner at No. 1 Dunedin, 7; Lakewood/Gibbs winner at No. 2 Boca Ciega, 7; Friday: final, 7 (site TBD)
3A-9 at Northside Christian
Monday: No. 4 Clearwater Central Catholic vs. No. 5 Calvary Christian, 2; No. 3 Shorecrest vs. No. 6 Indian Rocks Christian, 4; Tuesday: No. 2 Northside vs. CCC/Calvary winner, 2; No. 1 St. Petersburg Catholic vs. Shorecrest/IRC winner, 4; Thursday: final, 4
2A-9 at Canterbury
Tuesday: No. 3 Bayshore Christian vs. No. 2 Cambridge Christian, 5; No. 4 Lakeside Christian vs. No. 1 Canterbury, 7; Thursday: final, 6