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PLANT CITY — After watching her most versatile player get beaned by Brandon’s Kayla Goff — as hard a thrower as you’ll find in Hillsborough County — last February, Plant City coach Heidi Kouveras momentarily panicked.
Makensie McAvoy, then a Raiders sophomore, already was playing out of position. Would she now be out of sorts?
“I mean, it knocked her feet out from under her,” Kouveras recalled, “and she just got up and walked to first base.”
Similarly, a few Raiders partisans must have thought Kouveras had taken a few too many rise balls to the helmet when she put McAvoy at second base two springs ago. A softball lifer, McAvoy wielded a nice enough bat, ran well and possessed tremendous athleticism. The problem was with her glove.
It was for left-handers. Even Kouveras’ assistant, former USF and minor-league pitcher Ken Mohler, scoffed.
“And he’s left-handed,” Kouveras said, “so when I decided to put a lefty over there, he looked at me like I was crazy. But I didn’t have anybody else. And everybody else that could play second were all outfielders. So I had to kind of scrounge up and figure out what I was going to do, and she was my toughest kid.”
Kouveras’ left-leaning philosophy worked seamlessly. Last season McAvoy, who may stand 5-foot-2 in cleats, hit .440 with 21 RBIs, stole 15 bases and, to Kouveras’ recollection, didn’t commit an error all season.
“She’s such a natural born athlete that, even when she goes to turn the double plays somehow she could just switch feet real quick, grab it and go,” Kouveras said. “You could probably put her anywhere on the field and it wouldn’t matter.”
Kouveras will put that statement to the test again this spring.
McAvoy will move to centerfield, filling the lone gap on a loaded Raiders team projected to prevail in Class 5A, District 8 — by far the deepest in Hillsborough County.
“I love center, so I was really happy,” said McAvoy, who wears her brown hair in a side ponytail and listens to Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror before games. “I love second, too, but I love center more because I’m never going to play second base in college.”
Necessitating McAvoy’s latest move was the decision by previous centerfielder Analise Coffee not to play softball this year. Promising freshman Kaci Booth moves to second, where she’ll be flanked by veterans wherever she turns.
University of Central Florida signee Mackenzie Audas, who Kouveras says expanded her pitching repertoire in the offseason, returns to the circle. Catching her will be University of Tampa-bound Taylor Storey, who belted seven homers last season for the Raiders, who lost in the region semifinals to eventual 5A state champ East Bay.
And speed? McAvoy and shortstop Kristen Wycoff (35 steals in 2010) possess it in abundance.
“I would think Plant City’s the team to beat,” East Bay coach Glenn Rodriguez said.
“I think we’re going to be solid on defense,” Kouveras said. “I’ve got almost the exact same starting lineup as last year. I’ve got a few new girls and some returners that might take a bunch of cuts this year too.”
Preseason Super Seven (with 2010 record)
1. Plant City (18-9): Raiders return all but one player from 2010 playoff team
2. Chamberlain (17-6): After 2010 playoff absence, talented Chiefs have chip on their shoulder
3. Plant (22-5): Reigning Spring Fling champ still has plenty of offense and pitching depth
4. Newsome (17-8): Wolves’ dangerous lineup will feature two FSU signees
5. Riverview (10-13): AHN transfer Emily Gaitan should resolve pitching concerns
6. Sickles (24-6): Our dark horse team. Gryphons lost eight seniors but replenished nicely
7. Steinbrenner (17-6): Second-year Warriors should again flourish in shaky district
Seven pitchers to watch
Jaclyn Amato, So., Steinbrenner: 206 Ks, 0.91 ERA as a Warriors freshman
Mackenzie Audas, Sr., Plant City: UCF signee fanned 15 Newsome batters in district semis
Tory Bohanan, Jr., Tampa Catholic: Crusaders ace posted 0.79 ERA in 115 innings in ’10
Miranda Clark, Sr., Plant: With junior Rose Yanger, forms best 1-2 punch in county
Kayla Goff, Sr., Brandon: North Florida signee tallied 264 strikeouts in 2010
Bailey Schinella, Sr., Newsome: FSU signee may also be Wolves’ top hitter
Jenny Weissman, Jr., Berkeley Prep: Recorded 204 strikeouts as a sophomore
Seven hitters to watch
Bianka Bell, Jr., Chamberlain: Multi-tool player has committed to LSU
Reina Baluja, Sr., Jefferson: FIU signee hit .477, posted 1.67 ERA in 2010
Kayleen Boatwright, Sr., Riverview: St. Petersburg Times’ 2009 county POY set for a resurgence
Victoria Cooper, Sr., East Bay: Hit .500 with two doubles at state tournament
Morgan Litchfield, Jr., Gaither: .460 hitter collected 27 RBIs as a sophomore
Kaitlyn Steckel, Jr., Plant: .425 hitter was 19-for-19 in stolen base tries in 2010
Taylor Storey, Sr., Plant City: University of Tampa signee belted seven homers in 2010