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Hillsborough: District softball preview

After Plant City coach Heidi Kouveras, left, couldn’t speak to her team after a frustrating loss, she gathered Taylor Storey, MacKenzie Audas, right, and the rest of the Raiders for a real heart-to-heart that produced an eight-game win streak.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

After Plant City coach Heidi Kouveras, left, couldn’t speak to her team after a frustrating loss, she gathered Taylor Storey, MacKenzie Audas, right, and the rest of the Raiders for a real heart-to-heart that produced an eight-game win streak.

PLANT CITY — Perhaps the most inspirational postgame pow-wow of Heidi Kouveras' coaching career was the one she chose to skip.

For seven excruciating innings, Kouveras had watched her Plant City team allow itself to be flummoxed by East Bay ace Kayla Cox. On a mid-March evening, Cox's scorching fastball was staying in the zone, but the Raiders weren't challenging her.

"I felt Kayla was throwing a lot more accurate that game," Kouveras recalled. "And to me, it was a little bit more hittable than the first time we played them."

Nonetheless, Plant City finished with more errors (five) than hits (four), two crucial base-running blunders, a costly batter-interference call and an exasperated coach. Immediately following that 3-0 district defeat, Kouveras' lone comment was to her staff.

"I don't have anything nice to say right now," she told the Raiders assistants, "so I'm just going to go take a breather."

With that, Kouveras hopped in her white Sebring convertible and drove home to Brandon. That was March 16.

The Raiders (15-7) haven't lost since.

Be it calculated ploy or coincidence, Kouveras' brushoff resulted in the Raiders evolving into a club no one wants to face in this week's Class 5A, District 8 tournament at — of all places — Plant City. Their eight consecutive victories have come against teams such as 6A Bloomingdale, district No. 2 seed Newsome, 2009 6A region finalist Riverview and steadily improving Durant (twice).

"I think that was like, a real turning point," junior catcher Taylor Storey said.

For Kouveras, that evening was as sleepless as it was speechless. Upon arriving home, the seventh-year Raiders coach stayed up until roughly 3 a.m. jotting down notes, but not of the East Bay debacle. Instead of obsessing on what she had just winced her way through, Kouveras essentially scripted a scouting report on each of her players.

At the start of the next day's practice, she gathered the Raiders in a semicircle.

"I knew that we probably had something coming," pitcher MacKenzie Audas said.

It turned out to be more discussion than diatribe. Kouveras spent 45 minutes going over her previous night's notes, constructively telling each of her players — in that group setting — how they could improve.

The result? "Probably one of the best practices we've had," said Storey, a .449 hitter whose five home runs lead the district.

"We sat down and we talked about everything: our weak points, our strong points. Coach had it all laid out for us. I could tell it was really good because we all know what we have to do, but that kind of showed it to us."

Two nights later, the Raiders collected eight hits and got a 15-strikeout effort from Audas (10-4, 1.29 ERA) in a 4-2 win against Bloomingdale.

That was the start of the streak. The highlight of the string occurred April 6, when the Raiders held Newsome, playing without ace and FSU signee Bailey Schinella, to three hits in a 7-0 romp.

Plant City enters the district tournament capable of manufacturing runs or scoring them in bunches. Complementing Audas' dominance in the circle and Storey's power at the plate are proficient slap hitter MacKensie McAvoy (.480, 21 RBIs) and leadoff hitter Kristen Wycoff (33 steals), whom Kouveras says can flat-out bolt.

Something Kouveras hasn't had to do since March 16.

"We've clicked after that," Storey said.

Tournament schedules

6A-8 at Alonso

Monday: (4) Wharton vs. (5) Alonso, 7

Tuesday: (2) Bloomingdale vs. (3) Brandon, 5; Alonso/Wharton winner vs. (1) Plant, 7

Thursday: Final, 7

5A-9 at Sickles

Tuesday: (4) Gaither vs. (5) Hillsborough, 7

Wednesday: (3) Freedom vs. (6) Leto, 4; (2) Sickles vs. (7) King, 7

Thursday: (1) Chamberlain vs. Gaither/Hillsborough winner, 4; Freedom/Leto winner vs. Sickles/King winner, 7

Friday: Final, 7

5A-8 at Plant City

Monday: (4) Riverview vs. (5) Durant, 2; (3) Plant City vs. (6) Armwood, 4:30; (2) Newsome vs. (7) Tampa Bay Tech, 7

Tuesday: Plant City/Armwood winner vs. Newsome/Tampa Bay Tech winner, 5; (1) East Bay vs. Riverview/Durant winner, 7

Thursday: Final, 7

4A-9 at Robinson

Monday: (4) Strawberry Crest vs. (5) Spoto, 5; (1) Jefferson vs. (8) Middleton, 7

Tuesday: (3) Robinson vs. (6) Lennard, 5; (2) Steinbrenner vs. (7) Blake, 7

Wednesday: Robinson/Lennard winner vs. Steinbrenner/Blake winner, 5; Strawberry Crest/Spoto winner vs. Jefferson/Middleton winner, 7

Thursday: Final, 7:30

3A-10 at Berkeley Prep

Monday: (2) Tampa Catholic vs. (3) Academy of the Holy Names, 5; (4) Berkeley Prep vs. (5) Clearwater Central Catholic, 7:30

Tuesday: (1) St. Petersburg Catholic vs. Berkeley Prep/CCC winner, 6

Wednesday: Final, 6

2A-10 at Bishop McLaughlin

Monday: (1) Bishop McLaughlin vs. (4) Calvary Christian, 4:30

Tuesday: (2) Indian Rocks Christian vs. (3) Tampa Prep, 4:30

Thursday: Final, 4:30

A-9 at Canterbury

Monday: (4) Carrollwood vs. (5) Cambridge, 5

Tuesday: (2) Academy at the Lakes vs. (3) Lakeside Christian, 5; (1) Canterbury vs. Carrollwood Day/Cambridge winner, 7

Thursday: Final, 6

A-8 at Hernando Christian

Tuesday: (2) Bradenton Christian vs. (3) Seffner Christian, 2; (1) Hernando Christian vs. (4) Bayshore Christian, 5

Thursday: Final, 4:30

Hillsborough: District softball preview 04/17/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 17, 2010 10:39pm]
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