PALM HARBOR — It has been an odd season to say the least for perennial county power Palm Harbor University, which is seeded fourth for the Class 5A, District 9 tournament, a district the Hurricanes have owned in recent years.
Lately, however, PHU has been hitting its stride, which couldn't come at a better time with the district tournament starting in less than a week.
Wednesday against Countryside — Pinellas' top-rated team for much of the season — the Hurricanes shut down the Cougars behind a dominating pitching performance from Courtney O'Connell in a 7-1 win.
The victory was the fourth in five games for the Hurricanes (16-6) against heady competition.
"We're starting to come together," said O'Connell, who didn't pitch earlier in the season because of an injured arm. "We're starting to work a lot harder, and we're communicating better."
O'Connell limited a potent Countryside (19-4) lineup to two hits and allowed only one runner to reach scoring position through six innings. She gave up a run in the seventh, but by then the Hurricanes held a seven-run lead.
"If I throw where I'm supposed to, my defense has my back" O'Connell said. "I trust this defense more than any defense I've ever had behind me."
The PHU offense was just as lethal, scoring once in the second and twice in the third before first baseman Jackie Katchuk unloaded on a fastball down the middle with the bases loaded for a grand slam in the fourth.
"I had been getting behind all day, so I figured I'd get ahead," said Katchuk, who swung at the first offering from Countryside starter Desiree Baker and deposited it over the fence to the deepest part of centerfield. "This win is huge."