TAMPA — The clutch gene is evident in Bethany Kursch.
This season, Gaither High’s slugging infielder leads Hillsborough County with 31 RBIs and is batting .488. Of her 20 hits, nine are for extra bases.
Though she is only a sophomore, her game-changing ability at the plate rivals any upperclassman.
“She’s on it,” Gaither softball coach Jerry Murray said. “That’s all I can say.”
Kursch has hit four home runs this season, three during a four-game stretch, including a walk-off grand slam to top Robinson and a two-run homer in the Cowboys’ 5-1 win against Steinbrenner to take first place in Class 7A District 8.
“I’m confident when I’m up to bat,” Kursch said. “I’m doing it for my team.”
And it’s giving the Cowboys (13-3) confidence.
“We try to coach from a standpoint that every one of our players has the opportunity to bring a run in, but when you have a player like Beth that’s been hot the way that she’s been hot, you can see it in the girls’ eyes,” Murray said. “They are looking toward getting that run in. That’s good for Bethany as well.”
Kursch has driven in three or more runs six times this season, and she has a .951 slugging percentage and a .532 on-base percentage.
“The momentum gets hot and everyone just keeps hitting,” Kursch said.
Patriots hope to get on a roll
Last season, Freedom reached the state championship game. The Patriots won all three regional games on the road, including an upset of defending state champion Chamberlain after three days of postponements because of rain and a grand slam in the region final at Sarasota. In the Class 7A state final, Freedom lost to Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, 1-0.
After starting this season with five losses in their first seven games, the Patriots have improved to 11-7 overall and are coming off a 2-1 win against Steinbrenner in district play.
The Patriots will likely enter the district tournament as the third seed, and though Freedom lost six starters from last year’s team, coach Autumn Hernandez believes that “anything is possible once you get in the playoffs.”
“It’s taken some time to jell and get used to each other,” said Hernandez, the 2013 Tampa Tribune Female Coach of the Year. “We’re playing with more confidence right now and more heart.”
Freedom returned senior outfielder Rachel Carlson, who has signed with Maine, junior pitcher Grace Street, who is verbally committed to Rollins, and sophomore catcher Maddy Hall. Freshman Gracie Seidl has emerged as a go-to player, Hernandez said, after making a seamless transition from outfield to first base.
As the third seed, Freedom could face Steinbrenner, the projected No. 2 seed, in the district semifinals. Freedom defeated Steinbrenner in the semifinals last season to secure a playoff berth.
“If we play hard and we play like we’ve been playing, then we have a chance,” Hernandez said.