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Ram still swinging in a shadow

Not many players who lead their team in most offensive categories must take a backseat to a teammate.

The exception is Ridgewood outfielder Tera McCleary, who gets second billing behind Breanne Hill.

Give Hill her due. The senior right-hander tossed the first two perfect games in school history last season and struck out a school-record 172 to go along with a 15-4 record and 1.09 earned-run average.

McCleary didn't set all the records, but she had one of the school's best seasons, leading the Rams in seven offensive categories.

McCleary's numbers: .367 average, 29 hits, 15 RBIs, 4 doubles, .508 on-base percentage, 13 walks in 96 plate appearances.

"It's a feeling that you kind of get used to," McCleary said of taking second billing. "I totally back Bre. She's awesome and she's great.

"I'm probably the worst person to talk about myself. It's no big deal to me."

Last season's district quarterfinal loss to Mitchell? Now that's a big deal.

"It was really tough to deal with," McCleary said of the loss that ended Ridgewood's season.

Still, McCleary doesn't dwell on that defeat.

"After losing, you take the bad things and see what you need to do to get better," she said. "Determination and repetitiveness; there's always something to be worked on."

Ridgewood coach Greg Bollinger, who coached McCleary as a freshman in junior varsity, has seen her athletic prowess since he taught her gym class at Fox Hollow Elementary.

"She was pretty intense," Bollinger said. "Sometimes she's over-intense. She's a lot harder on herself than I could be on her. She takes perfection to a fault. She takes the game seriously."

A rightfielder as a sophomore, when she hit .400 as a first-year varsity player, McCleary moved to center last season. But the emergence of freshman centerfielder Jessica Birchmeier has sent McCleary back to right.

And after batting second last season, McCleary has been moved down a spot in the batting order "because she did drive in so many runs," Bollinger said.

McCleary throws right-handed, bats left and is a contact hitter.

"She'll hit a double down the line or in a gap, but she's not going to hit it out," Bollinger said.

McCleary has set a goal of adding some power. That, she said, will take more practice swings, something she won't mind.

"She really works at hitting," Bollinger said. "She takes extra reps when she gets a chance."

Part of the reason, McCleary said, is that hitting is more difficult to master than fielding.

"Fielding is almost like second nature, where hitting, you've got to put a lot of work into it," she said. "So I mainly concentrate on my hitting."

McCleary took up softball at age 8 after watching her parents, Gregg and Bunny, play on a coed team in New Port Richey.

She played in the West Pasco Little League, and in 1999 she was part of the junior all-star team that won a District 12 championship and advanced to sectionals. Ridgewood teammates Jenna Lowe, Missy Noriega, Shauna Kortas and Krysti DiMartino played on that team.

Winning playoff games with her former Little League teammates at the high school level is McCleary's primary focus these days. To accomplish that, she plans to keep swinging.

As for earning recognition on the same team with Hills, McCleary said, "I just let my actions speak for me."