One of Central's toughest at-bats has found new digs.
Four-year letterman and multiple-time All-County selection Katherine "Katie" Elizabeth McCarthy will be one of approximately 270 graduating seniors at the school's commencement exercises at Brooksville's Grace World Outreach Church next Thursday.
After graduation, the 5-foot-7 McCarthy will set her sights on attending the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota; formerly Manatee Junior College and Manatee Community College.
State College of Florida has campuses in Bradenton, Venice, and Lakewood Ranch. They're approximately 94 miles and 97 minutes south of the CHS campus.
According to McCarthy her choice of college boiled down to either playing for the Manatees or playing for another D-II school in West Virginia.
"I couldn't have played in West Virginia. They can't play year-round like we can here," analyzed McCarthy. "State College of Florida had everything I wanted.
"You could tell right away that they were interested in me. It just seemed like a good fit," declared McCarthy. "Coach (Meredith Headings) was pretty straightforward. She said, 'If you work hard, you can earn a position.' That was good enough for me."
On cutting through the coach speak, "College coaches will tell you what you want to hear," noted McCarthy. "The coaches want players who are versatile. I don't make any friends walking into any situation and saying, 'Yeah I'm a shortstop and that's what I'm looking to play.'"
McCarthy fondly recalls her initial visit to the Manatee campus, "It was during an all-day camp," she said. "At the end of the day, coach made me an offer. While I was there, I got a feel for the class sizes. I also saw a video that was produced a couple years earlier when they went to nationals. I got a good vibe.
"When I spoke with some of the different players, they had nothing but good things to say about the situation," added McCarthy.
McCarthy was born in Brooksville as the youngest of three daughters to Dr. Brian and Sharon McCarthy. She is the third member of the family to graduate from CHS.
McCarthy's athletic indoctrination began when she was 7. She played forward in soccer at the Hernando Youth League level for seven years. She eventually participated in club soccer at Anderson Snow Sports Complex.
During that same timeframe, McCarthy played in HYL's Dixie Softball. For the next seven seasons, she recalls alternating mostly between third base and the outfield.
Once she matriculated to the CHS campus on Ken Austin Parkway, McCarthy gravitated to Beta Club, Key Club and the yearbook staff before sticking with one sport - softball.
She became a fixture on the diamond for the Lady Bears across the next four seasons.
On why she selected softball over soccer, "I felt like I had more potential in softball," recalled the 17-year-old McCarthy.
In McCarthy's four seasons under veteran skipper Tyson Ellis, she could be described as a big fish in a little pond. There was very little of a supporting cast.
Case in point, though McCarthy also played travel ball in the offseason many of the other Lady Bears didn't pick up a bat until the following season's January tryouts. The lack of seasoned players has shown up in the won-lost columns.
Across McCarthy's four seasons, CHS mounted a combined 41-57 won-lost slate (42 percent).
McCarthy's first three teams went 7-15, 6-18 and 10-16 before sprinting to the finish line in 2013 at 18-8.
This past season, CHS mounted more wins lately than any other CHS squad other than the 2000 21-7 team under Benny Martinez.
"As a player, you can't worry about wins and losses," described McCarthy on the mental toll of playing so hard on so many non-competitive teams. "It's nice to have a winning record at the end of the day.
"I think because of what happened, we all got closer as a team," added McCarthy.
On what ignited the turnaround at Bear Park, "We all started working on mechanics and fundamentals. It drove everybody to push themselves," admitted McCarthy.
"It wasn't just the seniors that turned this around," noted McCarthy. "(Freshman pitcher) Kaeleen (Koehler) was new to the team, but she helped the others, not just on correcting the physical mistakes.
"During the year we all got mentally stronger and we finally showed how capable we were at this game," stressed McCarthy.
Despite earning the top seed in the Class 6A, District 6 Tournament at Ocala-West Port, the Lady Bears' dramatic rise was halted in the semifinals by nemesis Lecanto, 6-4.
What hurt the most was the Lady Bears had solved the Citrus County-based Lady Panthers twice during the regular season, 10-9 and 2-1.
LHS went on to win the 6A-6 final and reach the regional semifinals.
"It hurt a lot to lose to Lecanto, but at the same time we didn't have it that game," emphasized McCarthy, who finished 1-for-3 and scored two runs in her final prep tilt. "Looking back, I'm proud of what we achieved to reach that point."
The setback to Lecanto closed the books on McCarthy's 94-game varsity career.
During that four-year span, the right-handed hitting McCarthy led the club in every offensive category: games played (94), at-bats (293), runs scored (89), hits (126), extra-base hits (54), doubles (33), triples (nine), homers (12), runs batted in (95) and batting average (.430).
For the second straight season, McCarthy led the local circuit in hitting.
On defining her return of investment into the game she loves, "A lot of the stats helped a lot," she said. "I feel like I helped the other players on the team, too."
McCarthy turned back the clock for two of her greatest softball memories.
"My first homer came when I was a sophomore against (Springstead ace) Alexis (Adams). That was a shot," she recalled. "The other had to be when we beat Hernando (on March 25, 2011, 15-2) at home. I enjoyed it. It's nicer to beat in-county teams."
McCarthy, who'll graduate with a 3.3 unweighted and 3.75 weighted grade point average, isn't entirely convinced about what she aspires to do in the future.
"I enjoy health sciences and I like being around kids," she said. "If I turn out to be a coach, I see myself working at the collegiate level.
"My current goal is to get a scholarship after two years here. I'm kind of partial to attending UCF (University of Central Florida)."
When she's not studying for a test or practicing softball, McCarthy describes herself "as a pretty easy person to read. I like to spend any extra time with my friends."
Like her father, McCarthy shares his interest in classic cars and baseball.
Before she heads to Manatee County, "I have to thank my parents. My family has been extremely supportive," said McCarthy. "I have to also give thanks to my coaches and all the girls I've played with.
"I'd like to be remembered by my work ethic," pointed out McCarthy on her calling card. "I want to be remembered as someone who gave 110 percent to their family, friends and teammates."
By the Numbers: Central's Katie McCarthy (2010-13)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YR GP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI .AVG
2010 22 65 06 15 4 0 0 09 .231
2011 23 75 21 30 8 4 1 24 .400
2012 26 78 30 44 9 2 4 31 .564
2013 23 75 32 37 12 3 7 31 .493
TOTALS 94 293 89 126 33 9 12 95 .430