PHU's Connolly burning up the base paths
PALM HARBOR - When's a single not really a single? If Palm Harbor University's on the softball diamond, then the answer is when senior Moriah Connolly records the hit. Why? Because if an opponent succeeds in limiting the lefty slap hitter's at bat to just a base hit, Connolly isn't going to be keeping its first baseman company for very long. Chances are she'll be stealing her way to second only to be bunted to third or swiping that bag, too.At this point, teams may as well grant the extra bases simply to avoid costly throwing errors during the futile attempts at throwing Connolly out that may allow her to race across home plate in the process. “When she leads off the game and gets on – and we've looked at it – we score every time,” first-year PHU coach Kerry Katchuk said of his senior leadoff hitter. “She steals second automatically and then we either steal third or move her over and then we score.” There is absolutely no home-team hyperbole in that statement, either; it's just a fact-supported truth at this point. Connolly is a perfect 43-for-43 in stealing bases this season, after swiping three more Monday afternoon in a 6-4 loss at Countryside. [Update: Connolly is now 48-for-48 following her three-steal effort during PHU's district-championship win over East Lake.] “Moriah is a special athlete, not even just in softball,” Katchuk said. “She's by far the fastest kid on our team and we've got some pretty fast kids.” Athletic is a succinct, appropriate descriptor for Connolly, both in her ability and appearance. That's also why it's somewhat of a sensory shock seeing her play for the first time. Connolly steps to the plate with the athletic stature of a three- or four-hole power hitter. The last resident North Pinellas speed demon to tear up base baths in such similar fashion, former Countryside Cougar and current LSU Tiger Ayanna Andrews, had a more prototypically short, rail-thin frame. “It's not like she's a little tiny kid out there,” Katchuk said. “She gets her acceleration and then she's just so quick.” For Connolly, a lifelong softball career of almost never getting thrown out has let her develop into the confident base stealer she has become. “I've definitely had a lot of confidence in softball for my whole career,” said the Boston University commitment. “I've only been thrown out once [in high school], but I definitely try to keep a level head about it. Coach Kerry's great because he knows I know how to read [situations] so a lot of times he'll just give me the opportunity that if I see something I can take advantage of it.” More often than not, Connolly has been doing just that all season. It's not rare to see her reach first and immediately swipe second on the next pitch when everyone on the field knows what's about to happen. Raw speed is just one element to Connolly finding so much success stealing bases, she said. It's also relying on instincts and learning to fine-tune her skills. “I ran track for pretty much my whole life, so a lot of that goes into it. But also it's a lot of learning baserunning and timing.” The culmination of Connolly more precisely honing those skills seems to be coming to a head in 2013. With three more regular season games remaining (as of Monday) and an untold amount of district and playoff contests, she is in striking distance of running down a Pinellas County stolen bases record (57) set by Andrews during her senior year in 2011.
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