Paul's versatility lifts Freedom
TAMPA - When Freedom softball coach Autum Hernandez asked junior Megan Paul if she would convert from third base to catcher before the season, Paul wasn't too hip to the idea. But Paul, a three-year starter, accepted her coach's request. After all, it was for the betterment of the team. "I honestly didn't care," she said. "Anywhere coach needed me, I'd play. I'm confident I can do the best I can." Paul's transition into her new role has exceeded her coach's expectations and has helped the Patriots to their first winning season since 2008. Hernandez, a former catcher herself, has permitted Paul to call the majority of pitches for junior Chelsea Singleton."I think a catcher knows the flow of the game better than a coach," Hernandez said. Behind the plate, Paul has committed one passed ball and has allowed just two stolen bases. She's caught 10 base runners trying to steal. "She played a little (at catcher) last year," Hernandez said. "She does well at a quick pace." Earlier in the season against Strawberry Crest, Hernandez moved Paul to shortstop because the team was without three starters. "She's never complained about it," Hernandez said. As the team's cleanup hitter, Paul is batting .500 with 22 hits, including seven doubles and a team-high 22 RBI. She has struck out only twice in 44 trips to the plate, as of March 23. On March 17, the program earned perhaps its biggest win in years with 1-0 victory in eight innings over powerhouse and district foe Gaither. "If we can beat them, we have the potential," said Paul, who has a 3.9 unweighted grade point average. "It was a huge confidence builder." As a sophomore, Paul batted .390 with 23 hits, 19 RBI and 15 runs scored. Defensively, she owned a .824 fielding percentage as the team's starting third baseman and assisted on 42 of the team's outs while personally being responsible for 14. Freedom started the season 5-1 but lost five straight to fall to 5-6. The team rebounded and has won four straight, heading into the final stretch of the regular season with an overall record of 9-6 and a 6-2 record in Class 5A District 9. The Patriots have yet to make the postseason. Paul hopes to change that before she graduates in 2011. "It would look good for our team (to make the playoffs)," Paul said. "Even though we're a young (team) doesn't mean anyone can stomp all over us."
Reporter Nick Williams can be reached at (259) 7851.