Mandy Schwartz digs the long ball.
Through the first 15 games this season, the Cypress Creek High (CCH) junior third baseman has launched 10 pitches over the softball fences at various high schools, from Zephyrhills (twice) to Wiregrass Ranch to Berkeley Prep, where home run No. 10 in the sixth inning lifted the Coyotes to a 1-0 district win.
Her eighth home run, which came in the sixth inning against Class 5A, No. 3-ranked River Ridge, tied a game the Coyotes eventually lost 5-4, but it also set a school record for a season, breaking Neely Peterson’s previous mark of seven set in 2019.
Schwartz’s ninth homer, three days later, tied her for the state lead with two other players.
Her 10th, April 8 against the Bucs, is merely putting the record further out of reach for the coming classes of Coyote softball players — and there’s still three games to play.
She’s not just a player who can crush a lot. In fact, Schwartz doesn’t see herself as a home run hitter, just someone who hits the ball hard.
“I definitely think I am a power hitter, but not necessarily a home run hitter,” she says.
Schwartz combines her power with contact, and is hitting .608 with only three strikeouts in 48 plate appearances this season. It is one of the primary reasons the Coyotes got off to a surprising 12-3 start in 2021, including 6-0 in the District.
And, there have been other bright spots. Senior centerfielder Emma Coons is hitting over .300 with 12 stolen bases, junior Jillian Hudson is batting .382 with a team-high five doubles, and senior Hailey Vazquez has given Cypress Creek a legitimate ace in the circle for the first time in its four years of existence.
Vazquez boasts a 0.74 ERA, and has struck out 112 batters in 66 innings while posting a 9-2 record.
“I can’t ask more of Hailey,” says first-year Coyotes’ head coach Jennelle Day. “She’s a great leader on and off the field and has a confidence the girls follow. She’s done a lot of big things for us.”
Schwartz has been a starter since her freshman year, when she batted .467 with three homers, eight doubles and 25 RBI. That team won a District title, a Regional playoff game and came within a run of making it to the Regional championship game.
She credits her offensive numbers to Tommy Santiago, who was her private hitting coach before rejoining the staff of the University of South Florida softball team last year. Santiago changed Schwartz’s swing a few years back, and after struggling a few months to get the mechanics just right, she has been on a tear.
Last season, she didn’t get a chance to follow up her impressive freshman season due to Covid-19, which cut the season short (but not before she was able to hit a home run in the Coyotes’ season opener against Mitchell).
Schwartz was unsure what to expect in 2021, and has been a little surprised by CCH’s hot start.
“Honestly, I really didn’t expect this because we lost a majority of our players (the past two seasons),” Schwartz says. “We currently have eight freshmen on our roster, so I thought it might be a little rocky. But, everything just clicked early on.”
Even with Schwartz’s big bat and Vazquez’s stalwart arm filling two important areas, the CCH defense may deserve just as much credit for the team’s success. Through 15 games, the Coyotes had committed just nine errors.
“The bats can be shaky, but the defense has really stepped up,” Schwartz says.
As a result, she thinks this year’s version of the Coyotes can match what the 2019 team did, and maybe even advance in the State playoffs.
“I think as long as we stay focused we can definitely do that again,” Schwartz says.