Citrus pitcher Katelyn Parks gets set to deliver a pitch April 10 at home against Lecanto. The junior has helped the Hurricanes to five wins in a row after a 1-6 start.
It started bad, then it got worse.
Citrus softball coach Larry Bishop knew that could happen. The 2016 team he coached to a 17-8 record experienced significant losses to graduation, and those were compounded when two of the top players expected to return were lost to injury before the season even started.
That including Madison Spires, projected to be the Hurricanes’ top pitcher. Katelyn Parks — who led Citrus with 81 innings in the circle as a sophomore in 2016 — was elevated to No. 1.
"The beginning of the season was really rough for me, mentally and the mechanics — it just wasn’t clicking for me," Parks admitted.
Indeed, not much went right for Parks, or for her team. Citrus played seven games in February to start the season; six ended in defeat. Opponents scored an average of 10 runs a game in those first seven.
Parks knew her problems ran the gamut, both mental and physical. And she knew she had to get it straightened out.
"It was a breakdown, my arm wasn’t going behind me, my foot was turning. ...I worked really hard and coach (Larry) Bishop definitely stepped in and helped me a lot," Parks said. "He made sure I had time in the bullpen with coach Nash, and he really made sure I had time to work with my catchers.
"He took the time to help fix it and I think it’s really helped me, the extra time."
Still, getting disillusioned in such a situation wouldn’t be difficult.
"In our sport, everything starts with the circle," Bishop said, explaining the importance — and the pressure — of Parks’ position. "She’s worked really hard to get to where she is.
"Early on she had her struggles, but that’s a credit to her work ethic. She’s taken the time after practice and on the weekends to work on some things, working with her pitching coach, just changing some things up in her mechanics and on her delivery and it’s definitely worked."
It showed last week in Citrus’ final District 6A-6 regular season game. The Hurricanes went up against Lecanto, which bounced them 13-1 in their first meeting this season.
Not this time. Parks limited the Panthers to three hits in guiding Citrus to a 4-2 triumph.
"I’ve been working very hard to try and fix everything, mentally especially," she said. "I had to work a lot of kinks out. It was really hard the first couple weeks of the season, it was rough for me mentally and physically. I wasn’t in my zone, I didn’t feel comfortable out there."
Her faith in herself may have been challenged, but she didn’t lose it.
"I had to just keep working, I kept telling myself there’s still time to fix it," Parks said. "I just went out there and told myself I know what I have to do, I’ve been doing this a long time, I just have to go out there and do it."
It helped, she admitted, that her coaches never lost confidence in her.
"She’s made the adjustment, she’s worked to get where she is, and we feel very comfortable now with her in the circle," Bishop said. "I’m very pleased with how KP has worked to get where she is right now."
Her season statistics won’t reflect it, not after the hit she took in those first seven games. Through last week, Parks was 5-10 with a 4.25 earned-run average, with 76 strikeouts in 79 innings pitched.
But perhaps more important, after that 1-6 start the ’Canes are now 9-11 overall and have won their last five, surrendering just six runs in this current win streak. Two were shutouts.
With the district tournament starting next Monday, now is a good time to get on a roll. And Parks can feel the momentum building.
"The mental approach, the game is so mental," she said. "Everything can change in the blink of an eye, it’s just a matter of how you react to it.
"Everything is starting to make sense and everything is starting to work better. We have a really great defense, the bats are starting to come alive, we’re all starting to communicate better. We’ve really done a 180."
The ’Canes have found the right direction. Now if they can just sustain it.