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Palm Harbor's Maddie O'Brien sets softball records at FSU

Florida State shortstop Maddie O'Brien stepped to the plate Wednesday and did what she does best: turn two pitches into majestic fly balls that sailed over the fence.

Those home runs gave her 20 on the season, which already is a school record and tied Texas-San Antonio's Megan Low for the Division I lead.

That's not all. O'Brien, a former standout at Palm Harbor University High, leads the nation with 74 RBIs, which also are a school record.

Add ACC highs of 16 doubles, .464 batting average and 1.014 slugging percentage, and the redshirt junior is among 25 finalists for the USA Softball player of the year.

"I always knew I could put up those kinds of numbers," said O'Brien, who turned 22 last month. "It was just a matter of putting a lot more trust and belief in myself."

Her emergence as one of the game's preeminent power hitters comes after two seasons that were substandard by the lofty expectations she put upon herself.

As a senior at PHU, O'Brien hit .658 with 53 RBIs and was named first-team all-state.

After taking a medical redshirt for her first season at FSU because of a nagging ankle injury, she hit .260 as a freshman in 2012 and .271 last season with a combined 18 homers.

The reasons for O'Brien's struggles are myriad, covering mind and body. Entering college as a touted recruit, she put pressure on herself to produce right away. Much like in high school, O'Brien spent marathon sessions in the batting cage, taking one mighty swing after another.

"I think for whatever reason, I was trying too hard to do everything," said O'Brien, who is majoring in editing, writing and media.

Then came the injury, which threw off her rhythm. The power and ability to drive in runs were still there. But her batting average was not even close to what she was accustomed to.

"Maddie has been a good player ever since she got here," FSU coach Lonni Alameda said. "She's starting to excel because she's starting to put more trust in the things we're trying to get her to do."

Just as there were contributing factors to O'Brien's fall from her high school numbers, there are reasons for her rebound. The biggest, she said, was changing her routine.

Instead of spending hours in the cage, she spent about 15 minutes taking batting practice.

"I'm starting to learn about quality over quantity," O'Brien said.

In addition, O'Brien had not spent much time on the mechanics of the game. She did not pour over video of her swing or opposing pitchers.

"When I was in high school, it was just see-the-ball, hit-the-ball," O'Brien said. "You could do that then because there were only so many good pitchers. Now, every pitcher is phenomenal. There's more to hitting at this level.

"You have to come to the plate with a game plan for each pitcher."

This season, O'Brien has put her lessons to use.

On Wednesday, she had a career day.

She reached base in all nine plate appearances and drove in seven runs as FSU (41-6), ranked No. 9 in the coaches' poll, swept a doubleheader from Pitt. She had two homers (both in Game 1), two doubles, four walks (all in Game 2) and one hit-by-pitch.

"This season has been amazing," O'Brien said. "Not just for myself, but for the team."

Bob Putnam can be reached at putnam@tampabay.com or on Twitter at @BobbyHomeTeam.

>>fast facts

A breakout year

Maddie O'Brien struggled (at least compared with her Palm Harbor University days) during her first two seasons at FSU but has found her groove as a junior:

2012 2013 2014

Average .260 .271 .464

Slugging .507 .548 1.014

Doubles 11 10 16

Homers 8 10 20

RBIs 43 47 74

Palm Harbor's Maddie O'Brien sets softball records at FSU 04/17/14 [Last modified: Friday, April 18, 2014 12:03am]
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